My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Posts tagged ‘Meiji Japan’

Victorian vs. Traditional Japanese Clothing

While writing my WiP The Scarlet Daughter, I have to research not only the Victorian clothing my MC is accustomed to wearing, but the traditional Japanese style of dress as well.

Naomi, my MC, has been raised in the Western section of Tokyo and therefore wears that style. Here’s some examples of what she might have worn:

Style of dress in 1889

This one here was 1889. As my book starts off in the very early part of 1890 and as my MC probably doesn’t wear the “latest and greatest” fashions, something like this on the left would be similar to what she’d wear. This may be slightly fancier than even what she’d have, but the style is close.

Here’s another from that year.  This is probably the simpler style that she and her mother would’ve worn. I’m not sure yet if she would’ve worn the small bustle in the back; some of the dresses had them “built in” although I have to research it more.

1889 style again

1889-1890 saw a transition in style. The bustle nearly disappeared and the waist got even smaller. A year or two later, the sleeves began to grow, what we might recognize as the “leg o’ mutton” sleeves. I think they look absolutely silly, but who’s to say 😛
Here’s a pattern/style from 1892, where the sleeves are starting to grow:

Just a slight increase in the sleeves. Notice the bustle in the back is nearly gone.

This would be about about two years after my book takes place. I have to say that part of the reason I didn’t set it in the mid 1890s had to do with the fashion. Of course that wasn’t the *only* reason, but it was an influential factor.

The height (literally and figuratively) of these sleeves reached its peak in the mid 1890s, probably around 1893-1895. Here are some pictures of the huge balloon sleeves.
Balloon…I mean, Leg o’ Mutton sleeves
The sleeve disappeared entirely by about 1905-1906. I suppose there are worse things than huge sleeves, for example the hoop skirts of the Civil War era. I think I’d much rather have a balloon sleeve than have to figure out how to sit and manuver in a huge hoop skirt.

 Now, even though we think of Japan as the land of the kimono, it’s evident that some of the “stylish” ladies of the country followed some of the Western influence. Here’s a picture from about 1887, showing two Japanese ladies dressed in the popular bustle style of the time. Notice though that the patterns are more vibrant and “busier” than what a Western woman would probably wear.

East meets West

Of course the majority of the population still wore kimono on a regular basis. But there are many different styles of kimono, depending on the season, the age and sex of the wearer, etc. For example, in spring, the colors would be more vibrant with patterns of the ever famous cherry blossom as well as other spring motifs. Winter would be more subdued and also have more layers.

Here’s what a young unmarried woman would typically wear:
These are probably a bit too modern, but the colors for an unmarried girl would be brighter, the sleeves, called furisode, would be longer, sometimes falling to just below the knee or above the ankle.

A married woman’s kimono would be plainer, but still beautiful in its own right. The sleeves, called tomisode, wouldn’t be as long either, falling no longer than the waist, as seen in this picture below.


While I like both of the patterns, I must say I’m fond of the plainer one. Perhaps it’s because I’m an old married woman 😛

Anyway, for men, here’s some of what they would wear, especially if they were of the old samurai class. I have to research and see if they still would’ve worn the hakama pants in the time and place my book takes place in, but for now I’m saying yes, at least for this draft.

Ryuji, one of Naomi’s guardians (and eventual love interest) would probably wear something similar, although I believe this is the “formal” wear (again, I have to research it):


So there you have it–the difference between East and West. Naomi gets to cross that line, dressing in both types of clothes throughout the novel. 🙂 So naturally that means more research for me…but it’s fun to see the differences.


If you write, do you have to research your world’s costumes? Is it fun? Challenging? Or just annoying? I’d be interested to hear from you in the comments.


Marriages in Meiji Japan

I’ve been spending a little too much time researching and got worried that I may have to change things with the whole romance subplot in my book.

The first issue I encountered dealt with who could marry whom. Ryuji and Naomi aren’t related at all, but I thought could be considered “related by affinity” because Ryuji was a ward of the family and seen as a member of the family (not as a son, but more of a nephew). I had to figure out what collateral relations within the third degree meant in the law at that time and it took a great deal of Googling to find out what it meant 😛 Thankfully, it should be ok, because if anything, society may view them as distant, distant cousins (even though they aren’t blood related).

But then I realized I ought to look deeper into the actual marriage customs and realized that arranged marriage was the norm at this time in Japan. Marriages were often set up through omiai and by a nakodo, or a matchmaker, who knew the two candidates and their families. There would be a selection process, an introduction between the candidates and the families, and perhaps a few other meetings for the prospective bride and groom to assess one another (of course all under supervision). Social status and lineage were among some of the important things to consider. If the families didn’t feel that a marriage would be auspicious, they would part ways and the process would begin again.

A non arranged marriage was very uncommon which of course is going to pose problems for my two characters (since they aren’t arranged to be married). Of course I can work this into the plot somehow (and already have in my earlier chapters, though I’m thinking I’ll need to give it a bit more focus) and it will definitely make things a little more interesting, especially when we have the uber traditional Japanese mindset of Ryuji and the Victorian mindset of Naomi.

Even though the Victorian era was also a time when emotion was supposed to be kept in check, I’m thinking arranged marriages would be something that Naomi would view with a little aversion (not nearly as we would today of course, but more than the average Japanese woman would at that time). So there’s the conflict there of her viewing a marriage as one that should be built on love, while Ryuji’s view is more of the traditional “what’s good for the family and what the head of the family wants” point of view.

So of course there’s the inner turmoil of Ryuji who finds himself attracted to Naomi but realizes he cannot act upon it because it would be shameful and go against that of the family (not to mention, Naomi’s father).  He doesn’t want things to turn out the way it did for Naomi’s parents, which was obviously against societal expectations on both sides (an American woman and a Japanese man together? Simply unheard of and considered disgraceful at this time). It’s going to be interesting how it turns out, since I’m still uncertain what the result for them will be at the end.

For one brief moment, I thought that maybe I’d have them in an arranged marriage from the beginning, but then I thought it wasn’t all that original enough for me (I’ve seen plenty of storylines with the whole arranged marriage thing starting out badly and then the couple grows to love each other…) not to mention I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in with the storyline without completely changing the entire book( and adding the entire miai process) So I nixed that idea pretty quickly 😛

Sigh. It seems like this keeps getting more and more complicated as I go along! 😛

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