When Was the Heian Era?
The Heian period extended from the year 794 to 1185AD and was the last division of classic Japanese history. It was dominated both politically and culturally by the Fujiwara clan who were very influential and left behind distinct aspects of their culture, including clothing.
The Jūnihitoe Worn By Women
The jūnihitoe or “twelve layered robe” was worn by the highest-ranking women of the Imperial Court and is the most well-known dress of the Heian period. Women would wear this for very formal occasions. Although these garments were called “twelve-layered robes”, the number of layers varied and could have anywhere from two to 20 layers, depending on the occasion, season, and the rank of the woman wearing it. In the wintertime, when the most layers were worn, the garment could easily weigh around 30 to 40 pounds. Each layer has its own name and women followed a particular system of color combinations representing different animals, flowers, and plants specific to the season or month.
The colors of a jūnihitoe were of utmost importance and each color had its own poetic name, such as “crimson plum of the spring”. There were a variety of colors available and some colors were reserved only for those of a particular rank. Each layer of a jūnihitoe was made of silk, with the innermost layer made of white silk. Each additional layer would be carefully arranged so that all the layers underneath would be visible at the sleeves and around the neck. This careful arrangement of layers produced a fanning effect at the sleeves.
Women during the Heian era liked to wear their hair very long, even touching the floor. Ideally their hair was jet black and had a glossy appearance. An elaborate fan was an important accessory that would not only be used by women to fan themselves when it was hot, but also as a way to communicate with suitors since women were not allowed to speak face-to-face with male strangers.
Men’s Clothing during the Heian Era
Men during this period wore garments that were distinguished by their color and design. The highest ranking men would wear purple clothing and the following rank would wear red, followed by green, then blue. Within a rank, higher ranking men would wear darker shades. This outfit was completed by a silk hat.
Heian Clothing Today
While Heian era clothing is no longer the common style of dress in Japan, tourists can still experience it. Heian costumes can be seen during some festivals in Kyoto, including the Aoi Matsuri which is held in May and the Jidai Matsuri which is held in October. There are also places where you can try on a Heian costume yourself, with a few outlined below:
Heian Costume Experience Studio
Step back into the Heian period and be treated like royalty at this Japanese-style house where you can wear the clothing worn by nobles of the Heian era. Once you are in costume, you can have a photo shoot either by yourself or with your friends. The price varies depending on the type of costume you choose, with women’s costumes ranging from 20,000 yen to 280,000 yen and men’s costumes ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 yen. If you require a translator, there is an additional fee of 20,000 yen. They also provide make-up on request, free of charge. The entire session takes about 3 hours.
Address: 58 Matsuya-cho, Nijo-dori Takakura-nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Phone number: 075-231-2980
Open from 9:30am to 5pm every day except Wednesday from January 4th to mid-May and from mid-September to December 30th.
Once you are dressed in your Heian era costume, enjoy a photo shoot with your friends and then enter into a merchant’s house where you will enjoy traditional Japanese court music. Prices vary from 10,000 yen to 15,000 yen for women’s costumes and from 10,000 yen to 20,000 yen for men’s costumes. If you want to wear a silk costume, the price ranges from 25,000 yen to 35,000 yen. The session takes 1 ½ hours which includes hair styling, make-up, and dressing.
Address: 807 Tsukinuke-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Phone number: 075-254-8883
Open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Sunday
Nishijin Textile Industry Association
From footwear to undergarments, everything is provided here for your Heian costume experience. The session includes hair, make-up (bring your own), and a souvenir photograph. Sessions last for 1 hour and 20 minutes and cost 13,000 yen.
Address: 602-8216 Horikawa-dori Imadegawa, Minamiiri Nishi-gawa Kamikyo-ku, Kyoto
Phone number: 075-451-9231
Open from 10am to 6pm everyday (except from December 29th to January 3rd)