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Old 07-29-2010, 10:27 PM
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Why are East Asian robes folded left over right?

As an American living in Japan, I am often the victim of low expectations. On seeing me eat my lunch, Japanese people exclaim "Wow, you're so good with chopsticks!" On hearing me say a simple "arigatou," they shout "Wow, you're so good at Japanese!" On seeing me dressed in kimono for a festival, people they say "Wow, you're so good at dressing yourself!" While I concede that the complex women's kimono is something that is beyond my simple male brain's powers of comprehension, there is something about kimonos, and East Asian clothing in general, that has puzzled me for a long time. I've always been told to make sure that when you put on a kimono, you fold the right side under the left. The reverse is only used for dead bodies at funerals. (I've heard it's the same of similar clothing in China and Korea.) I can understand the whole not wanting to look like a dead person thing, but how did this tradition come about? Is there some practical reason for this? I guess the question is sort of related to how men's and women's clothes button on different sides, but I'm not sure if the same justifications for that which Cecil gave in an older column (https://academicpursuits.us/columns/...ifferent-sides) could be applied here. I'm not sure that folding right under left is any easier for right-handers than left under right, and as far as keeping your right hand warm for any impending sword fights, in every depiction I've seen of someone in a kimono trying to keep warm, they've tucked both arms in, sort of reminding me of how little kids like to play in sweaters. I can't figure it out. What gives?
Old 07-30-2010, 12:39 AM
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I don't know the reason for the order, but just wanted to drop in and say that it's the opposite for men. A man's yukata folds right over left.
Old 07-30-2010, 01:21 AM
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What? No way! It's left over right regardless of whether you're a man or a woman. Just take a look at this page from a Japanese online shopping site. All men's yukata, all left over right.

http://search.rakuten.co.jp/search/m...-sf.0-st.A-v.3
Old 07-30-2010, 01:29 AM
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Hmm, seems you're right. I was taught the above by a group of old women in Gifu more than 10 years ago.

Maybe they were branding me as a "dead man walking"?
Old 07-30-2010, 01:43 AM
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Haha. Uh oh. I guess either you remembered it backwards, those old ladies got it backwards, or there's a Japanese conspiracy to mislead foreigners akin to the Australian drop bear stories. (So... terrifying..)
Old 07-30-2010, 10:37 AM
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duh, everyone knows drop bears dress right over left when in stalking mode
Old 07-30-2010, 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by China Guy View Post
duh, everyone knows drop bears dress right over left when in stalking mode
But they wouldn't wear a yukata -- just a Drizabone, a pair of shorts, and Ugg boots.
Old 07-30-2010, 01:23 PM
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The explanation I've always heard was because samurai wore them that way because they carried the katana and wakazashi in the obi on the left hip, and the rest of Japanese society followed their lead. If the kimono is folded right over left, the hilt can get stuck and tangled in the fold during drawing, not something you want to happen when clearing a weapon for immediate use.

Last edited by pravnik; 07-30-2010 at 01:27 PM.
Old 07-30-2010, 03:11 PM
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Back when I was taking karate lessons and wearing a gi, I figured it was so the seams would form a lower-case 'y'. The other way, they don't form any particular letter at all.

(take this post with all the seriousness it deserves)
Old 07-30-2010, 04:10 PM
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When I wear kimono, I carry a lot of small stuff in my sleeves and in the front fold of my kosode. I'm right-handed, so it makes sense to me.
Old 07-30-2010, 04:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pravnik View Post
If the kimono is folded right over left, the hilt can get stuck and tangled in the fold during drawing, not something you want to happen when clearing a weapon for immediate use.
That's the reason I've heard men's shirts button on the other side than women's.
Old 07-30-2010, 08:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Capoeirista View Post
As an American living in Japan, I am often the victim of low expectations. On seeing me eat my lunch, Japanese people exclaim "Wow, you're so good with chopsticks!" On hearing me say a simple "arigatou," they shout "Wow, you're so good at Japanese!" On seeing me dressed in kimono for a festival, people they say "Wow, you're so good at dressing yourself!" While I concede that the complex women's kimono is something that is beyond my simple male brain's powers of comprehension, there is something about kimonos, and East Asian clothing in general, that has puzzled me for a long time. I've always been told to make sure that when you put on a kimono, you fold the right side under the left.
And you think this is bad how? Because it's condecending? Bah! As an American of Japanese descent, I have the opposite problem. Why can't you speak clearly? What are you, retarded? Why are your writing skills so poor? What is wrong with you? Nothing I do is ever good enough, forget that I was raised in a completely different culture that doesn't use damn intonations on our words! If I say "CUte" or "cuTE" people might looks at me wierd, but they'd understand. It doesn't become a completely different word. And if you use the wrong politeness levels, people don't mind. They assume I'm being purposly rude! So to be safe I end up talking like a 10 year old girl. BAH!


Quote:
Originally Posted by Capoeirista View Post
The reverse is only used for dead bodies at funerals. (I've heard it's the same of similar clothing in China and Korea.) I can understand the whole not wanting to look like a dead person thing, but how did this tradition come about? Is there some practical reason for this?
I bet it's totally has to do with the dead thing. Next time you're out at someone's house or restaurant, stick your chopsticks upright directly into the rice and see what happens. Even more fun, insist that they pass food to you chopstick to chopstick. These are all funerary rites that Asians in general tend to avoid. AFAIK Japanese, Korean and Chinese all tend to think of this as taboo. The rice, because that's how you make offerings to the dead and the chopstick to chopstick things is how the larger pieces are handled after a cremation. Don't really do those things BTW.
Old 07-30-2010, 08:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pravnik View Post
The explanation I've always heard was because samurai wore them that way because they carried the katana and wakazashi in the obi on the left hip, and the rest of Japanese society followed their lead. If the kimono is folded right over left, the hilt can get stuck and tangled in the fold during drawing, not something you want to happen when clearing a weapon for immediate use.
Tibetans wear their chuba or outer garment that way. 3hey carry stuff inside the left fold a lot and they also usually haave 2 or 3 foot long knives carried across the stomach sash. further data point for the quick draw weapon hypothesis
Old 08-01-2010, 08:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pravnik View Post
The explanation I've always heard was because samurai wore them that way because they carried the katana and wakazashi in the obi on the left hip, and the rest of Japanese society followed their lead. If the kimono is folded right over left, the hilt can get stuck and tangled in the fold during drawing, not something you want to happen when clearing a weapon for immediate use.
The problem with this explanation, though, is that this tradition comes from China, not Japan, and is also about 3,000 years old or so. I don't know when exactly it became fixed that you only wear your robes left over right, but for example, if you look at pictures of the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian, it's already well established in 210 BC. The samurai didn't arise in Japan until about 1,000 years later! I'm not sure you can apply the same weapon hypothesis to the Chinese because I don't think they carried their weapons the same way as the samurai. In most depictions of Chinese warriors I've seen, they're either carrying their weapon(s) in their hands with no sheath to speak of, or the sheath is just hanging from the belt. Admittedly, it's hanging on the left side, and while you might still be able to make the argument that folding one's clothes left over right makes it easier to draw, something makes me feel like Chinese people were probably wearing clothes that way well before they started hanging swords off their belts. Furthermore, Chinese armor fastens up the middle, getting rid of any possible sword-getting-caught-in-fold problems, and I'm not sure if Chinese warriors were constantly armed in the same way as the samurai (they could have been. I just don't know). If they only hung swords off their belts when they were wearing armor that fastened in the center, why would that have affected how they wore their robes?

As for the general "it's nice to use the fold as a pocket" argument, I guess that's possible, and while it's true that many people do stick stuff in there, it's also true that people also carry around special bags when wearing kimono/yukata. (Ex: http://terwee.takm.com/Aug02/Ladies%...g%20yukata.jpg It's possible that people starting carrying bags because they didn't want to stick things in the fold anymore, but even if that's true, why wouldn't left handed people fold their robes the other way? Unlike a western shirt's buttons, there's nothing that prevents them from folding it the other way. (Except maybe all the social pressures that force left-handed people to act like right-handed people... By the way, does anyone know if they have similar cultural stigmas against left-handed people in East Asia as they do in the West?) Anyway, I guess I'm still not convinced that the reason folding left over right is set in stone is because it creates a convenient pocket for right-handed people. It could just be a coincidental benefit, after all. *shrugs* It's possible, though, I guess...
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