- Protection from Fire
This kimono was originally brought to my attention some time ago by a fellow IG member. They were asking me if it was a hikizuri or not. Unfortunately, the seller's pictures and display methods made it very difficult to tell. The proportions and something about the motif looked right for a geiko's hiki, but the length was quite short and the fact that the seller didn't seem very knowledgeable about kimono made it difficult to know for sure. In the end, it was decided that the seller was asking too much money to take a chance on the kimono. Well, I kept watching the auction over and over again, until the price came down enough that I was willing to take a chance. When the kimono arrived I found that it did in fact have the correct proportions for a hiki. I also found it was made for a very petite woman. It's very narrow, and as mentioned quite short for a hikizuri, but still, there's about 20cm of fabric tucked up in the seam across the back. So, if required, this kimono could be let out to a length of close to 180cm!
Then wouldn't you know it, I found pictures of a similar hikizuri here on flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/blue_ruin_1/6909857040/
and suddenly I knew what the motifs on mine were. My hikizuri features motifs related to fire fighters. On the front panel we have a Matoi (a fishermen's standard). These standards were used by the samurai class for fleet identification and deployment. Eventually Edo Period fire fighters were granted permission to use these standards in a similar manner. You'll also notice a firemen's axe and ladder on this kimono. In the background there are also fire watchtowers atop which a large bell hangs. These bells could be rung to indicate the location of a fire.
Since the other hikizuri I found on flickr is a winter kimono while this one is obviously meant for summer, I decided to do some additional research. The owner of the other hikizuri associated their kimono with an annual firemen's parade which is normally celebrated in winter. This parade is meant to allow the local fire department to show off their equipment and techniques. What I discovered was that these firemen's parades are often performed at other times of the year as a part of other festivals. So, I suspect this kimono was meant to be worn for some sort of firemen's parade that occured during the summer, or it was simply meant to be a playful poke at the heat of summer. I also discovered that in the Edo Period, firemen were the heart-throbs of their time. They were often depicted and romanticized in ukiyoe as were the women of the pleasure quarters. So, it seems quite fitting that a geiko would have a kimono emblazoned with motifs associated with fire fighters.
As I searched for a name for this kimono, I came to realize that all the names I thought up felt somewhat inauspicious given the references to fire or flames, and the number of kimono in my collection. In the end I decided to settle on Hiyoke (protection from fire), because it focused more on the fire fighter's roles as protectors, than the desctructive force of fire.