Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Jo Matsu, marketing manager for Marukai Corp., helps
odori (dance) master Koishiro Nishikawa into a
kimono decorated with irises.

Kimono crazy

Bargains abound at a classic
fashion extravaganza through
Saturday at Ward Centre

By Suzanne Tswei

If you try really hard to separate emotions and logic, then it's possible to think of the kimono as nothing more than two pieces of fabric sewn together and held in place with a belt at the waist.

OK, there are also two smaller pieces of fabric sewn on for sleeves. But that's all -- just a few pieces of fabric, and for that matter, skinny little pieces of fabric, each measuring only 12 to 15 inches wide.

But what fabric! Exquisitely woven, painted, dyed and embroidered silk, rayon, cotton and linen. Logic is good, but it doesn't always work when it comes to things of beauty.

If you love kimonos -- or, more specifically, the artistic possibilities of the fabric -- consider this a fair warning: You are about to part with a good chunk of your money. Blame it on Marukai Hawaii. After a few years of selling used kimonos during promotional events at its Dillingham store, owner Richard Matsu decided to go for a mother lode sale. He has imported 2,000 vintage kimonos -- including several choice wedding robes -- haoris (kimonolike jackets), yukatas and other Japanese garments. He also brought kimono zoris, obis, scarves, curtains, fabric remnants and other Japanese objects for sale.

Detail of kimono embroidery.

Prices start at -- get ready for this -- $12 for a kimono or haori. Then it goes up to $19. Most of the garments are in this price range, and then to $29 and up before reaching to more than $300 for the elaborate wedding robes.

The "More Than Kimono" sale begins 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today in the former space of A Pacific Cafe, next to Compadres Bar & Grill on the second floor of Ward Centre. The sale is repeated every day through Friday with the same hours. The last day is Saturday, which is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cash, checks and credit cards are accepted.

Also for sale is clothing remade from vintage kimonos, jewelry, pillows, place mats and other gift items created by Hawaii artisans whose works are inspired by kimonos and other Japanese designs. The artisans will be giving free craft demonstrations during the sale.

"If you like kimonos -- and who doesn't? -- I think you can drop a few hundred dollars easy," said Ann Asakura, kimono addict and an organizer of the sale. (You can blame her, too.)

Asakura, who represents Temari, Center for Asian & Pacific Arts, a co-sponsor of the sale, will give a free demonstration on Japanese textiles during the sale. (See the accompanying schedule.) Asakura also will offer a 4 1/2-hour class on adapting kimono for Western wear at Temari next month. Call 735-4384 for more information.

A haori, shown in reverse, reveals a different
pattern from its exterior.

"There are definitely some real bargains here. These are used kimonos, but the quality is good and there is a good variety," she said. "I can't believe what they are selling some of the kimonos for, $12 and $19 -- that's unheard of."

The prices are cheaper, by a big margin, than those at the flea markets in Japan, said Asakura, who has been collecting fabric from Japan since the 1970s.

As an organizer, Asakura got to view the merchandise early and has her eye set on indigo-dyed katsuri (ikat) and other types of that represent the simple, humble country wear she loves.

"The prices for these things are simply outrageous in Japan. On my last trip to Japan (last spring), I bought nothing. I couldn't afford to," she said.

The Japanese, who traditionally shunned secondhand clothing, are discovering the many uses of vintage kimonos, and their feverish buying is driving up costs of vintage pieces. They are collecting the kimono to use the fabric for new clothing, patchwork quilts, dolls, handbags and other items.

In some cases the prices have shot up tenfold. Asakura said she had been accustomed to paying $65 for enough indigo-dyed cotton to make a futon cover. But on her last trip to Japan, she couldn't afford the $650 for the same fabric, decorated with a pattern derived from using a rice-paste resist process.

"We are not talking about multicolored silks from the Heian period (during which beautiful and elaborate silk kimonos for the nobility reached unsurpassed craftsmanship). We are talking about country fabric (made by nameless artisans)," Asakura said.

After her disappointing trip to Japan last spring, Asakura discovered Marukai's stash of kimonos. She happened to see the display at the Dillingham store, promptly dropped a good load of cash and got to know Marukai's Matsu and his wife, Jo. They teamed up for this sale, partly as a fund-raiser for Temari.

Asakura has some practical advice when it comes to selecting kimonos, that is, pick the colors, patterns and designs that appeal to you. Don't forget men's kimonos or haoris that can be deceptively plain on the outside. They are black, brown or navy silk on the outside, but the silk lining is beautifully decorated with tigers, bamboo and other manly designs. Simply turn the garment inside out to wear.

If you don't want to get involved with sewing, a haori can be worn as a modern jacket without any alterations. Or simply take away the sleeves -- save them for someone who likes to make patchwork or handbags -- and wear it as a long vest.

One of Asakura's prized garments is the haori she inherited from her uncle and remade into a vest. The black silk short robe, given to the treasured first-born son of the family, is decorated with bamboo, pine and turtle images. Wearing it makes her feel closer to her ancestors and her heritage, she said.

More than Kimono

Place: the former "A Pacific Cafe," 2nd floor Ward Centre
Time: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Cost: Free admission
Call: 372-5666

Here is the schedule of demonstrations for the "More Than Kimono" exhibition 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Ward Centre second-floor space formerly occupied by A Pacific Cafe. Admission is free.


>> Obi Ties," with Yasuko Kumon, noon to 12:45 p.m.
>> "New Fashions from Kimono," ChikuZen, 6 to 6:45 p.m.


>> "Obi Reborn," fabric painting and manipulation, with Kensei Takeda, noon to 12:45 p.m. Repeats at 6 p.m.


>> "Surface Decoration of Polymer Clay," noon to 12:45 p.m.
>> "Polymer Clay Techniques," 6 to 6:45 p.m.


>> "Sashiko Stitching" with Edith Watanabe and Karen Matsunaga, noon to 12:45 p.m.
>> "Greeting Card Decorations" with Pam Seeney and Kim Kono, 6 to 6:45 p.m.


>> "Polymer Clay Techniques," with Carol Sakai, 10 to10:45 a.m.
>> "New Fashions from Kimono," ChikuZen, 11 to 11:45 a.m.
>> "Surface Decoration of Polymer Clay," with Kyle Ino, noon to12:45 p.m.
>> "Little Treasures," with Lorraine Tokuyama, 1 to 1:45 p.m.
>> "Japanese Textiles 101," with Ann Asakura, 2 to 2:45 p.m.
>> "Greeting Card Decorations," Pam Seeney and Kim Kono, 3 to 3:45 p.m.
>> "Obi Ties," Yasuko Kumon, 4 to 4:45 p.m.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin