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Posted on Tue, May 11, 2010 : 11:46 a.m.

Learn about kimonos at University of Michigan Museum of Art demonstration, exhibit

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Every summer when the children and I attend the Japanese Obon Festival—where the little girls are so adorable in their curled and beribboned ringlets and seersucker Hello Kitty kimonos tied with big fluffy red bows, the older ladies so elegant in their matching dance school kimonos and elaborate obis and clacking getta, and the young men so funny with cool shades and many pagers and cell phones clipped to their kimono pockets while they dance—there are always three or four people who attend wearing bathrobes, with chopsticks in their hair.

I know that bathrobes are not kimonos, and that chopsticks are for eating, but it was not until I had the opportunity to watch a King School mom actually dress two second-grade girls in kimonos (a 20-minute process, and she was going fast) that I realized how complicated it was, with many unseen layers and conventions, and that I had no way to “read” the kimono because I did not understand the language of what the details meant.

At 2 p.m. Sunday we all have the opportunity to see local kimono expert Minako Yamasaki demonstrate how to wear the kimono and obi at the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Kimono Fashion Show, followed by a docent-led tour of the breathtaking new exhibit, Wrapped in Silk and Gold: A Family Legacy of 20th-Century Japanese Kimono.

From the University of Michigan Museum of Art:

"Wrapped in Silk and Gold: A Family Legacy of 20th-Century Japanese Kimono Kimono Fashion Show Sunday, May 16, 2 pm Helmut Stern Auditorium Since the development of kimono in the 17th century, the choice of kimono and its accessories had to follow subtle but strict codes dictated by criteria such as the relationship to the life cycle, the formality of occasion, age, and taste. Design elements referring to the seasons also play a role in the intricate visual language of kimono. Fabrics, colors, and designs in particular give physical embodiment to the four seasons and affect practical details such as weight, number of layers, and lining choices. For modern approaches to the art of traditional dress, join us for a kimono fashion show that will present elegant kimono and obi created for various occasions and ages. Local kimono expert Minako Yamasaki will also demonstrate how to wear kimono and obi.

Guided Tour
Wrapped in Silk and Gold: A Family Legacy of 20th-Century Japanese Kimono
Sunday May 16, 3 pm (note time)"

Wrapped in Silk and Gold: A Family Legacy of 20th-Century Japanese Kimono
May 1-July 25, 2010
Wrapped in Silk and Gold presents for the first time the Museum's recently acquired collection of deluxe kimono, haori, obi, and other traditional Japanese women's garments. Dating from the 1930s through the end of the 20th century, these garments trace changing fashions as the function of kimono changed over the course of time, as well as the arc of a woman's lifetime from youth to maturity. The works in the exhibition are the generous gift of the Yamaguchi family, and were made for and worn by a mother and daughter living in Tokyo.

This exhibition is made possible in part by the University of Michigan's Center for Japanese Studies, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Charles H. & Katharine C. Sawyer Endowment Fund, The Japan Foundation, New York, the CEW Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund, and the Japan Business Society of Detroit Foundation."

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at