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Obijime: An introduction to the different types

Which types of obijime do exist, how are they called and what do they look like? Since when do obijime exist? What are marugumi, hiragumi and maruguke? What are the measurements of an obijime?

Obijime – Introductory information

The obijime is a decorative, braided cord, that is tied around the obi. Until the second half of the 19th century, these cords weren’t being used to tie the obi. The obi back then wasn’t as wide as the obis used nowadays and could, therefore, be tied without any further accessories. It wasn’t until the end of the Edo-period/ beginning of the Meiji-era that these cords were in common use, as the obis became wider and needed additional fastening methods.

You can find more information on the basic knowledge on obi cords here! (German version)

Making a virtue out of a necessity

There are multiple theories about the origins of the obijime. Here are just a few different variations of these origin stories:

  1. Geisha or Maiko used the „sageo“ (jap.: 下緒, cord used to fasten a samurai sword to the obi of a kimono) of their clients in a playful/flirtatious manner by using it as a decoration for their obi.
  2. After the class of the samurai was outlawed the kumihimo craftsmen began searching for other ways to use their kumihimo cords. One of the new ways to use them was as a cord for the obi.
  3. When a samurai died, his widow would be sent his sageo. She would then bind the sageo over her obi as a symbol of her sorrow. From this, the custom of wearing a kumihimo cord was born.
    (I have not been able to find any written source material for this version however as of yet).
  4. As mentioned, the obi became much wider as time went on. Therefore it was necessary to secure the obi with an additional cord, so it wouldn’t slip out of place.

The array of varieties…

Just like with kimono and obi, there is a sheer infinite number of variations for obi cords. Some are round and thick, while others are flat and thin, and others can even be covered in fabric.
Just like with kimono and obi, you have a sometimes difficult choice between all the different materials, techniques, colors, motifs and patterns. But naturally, there are things you should know in regards to wearing an obijime.

The measurements

Obijime can be found in different widths and lengths. In general, however, they are about 1 centimeter thick and are about 150 centimeters in length.
The thinnest obijime are the so-called „nibuhimo“ to my knowledge with a width of about 6 millimeters. The thickest are around 1,5 centimeters wide („gobuhimo„). That a thinner obijime is easier to tie and to tighten is, of course, self-explanatory.

Side note: The width of an obijime is measured in „bu“ (Jap. 分):
1 bu (ichibu) = 3,03 mm, 2 bu (nibu) = 6,06 mm, 3 bu (sanbu) = 9,09 mm, 4 bu (shibu) = 12,12 mm, 5 bu (gobu) = 15,15 mm

The cross-section of an obijime

Obijime profile © KIMONO-KIMONO
Obijime profile © KIMONO-KIMONO

There are three different profiles types an obijime can have: round, oval and flat. Furthermore, there is a connection between the cross-section of an obi cord and how wide it is. You can see this, by how obi cords with a round profile are generally between 6-10 millimeters wide. I haven’t seen any round obijime wider than this, but I think that making them wider would probably result in them just being impractical. It would probably cause the knot to be thicker and thusly just make it look overbearing! With multistranded obijime, the individual strands are usually about millimeters thick.
Flat obi cords can be found in an average width between 6 and 15 millimeters. Here you can find the same principle: the thicker they are the harder they are to tie.

2 main groups: braided and sewn

Obi cords can be loosely separated into 3 groups, that are differentiated by the different techniques that were used to make them:

Obijime: sewn and braided. Top: sewn obijime © B. Janssen, Bottom: braided obijime / ©KIMONO-KIMONO)
Top picture: Maruguke © Britta Janssen, www.godzilla-kimono-club.de. Bottom picture: Marugumi  © KIMONO-KIMONO)
  1. braided(marugumi / hiragumi)
  2. sewn (maruguke)
  3. other

    The TPO (Time Place Occasion) of an obijime, so about when, where and to what occasions you can / should wear them, is set by the following factors:
  • material
  • profile
  • width
  • gold- / silber-percentage
  • number of strands
  • number and intensity of the colors
  • type of braiding technique and motif

Hiragumi, Marugumi and Maruguke

This picture shows the most important types of obijime that a kimono-insider should know:

3 Arten Obijime © KIMONO-KIMONO
1: Hiragumi, 2: Marugumi, 3: Maruguke © KIMONO-KIMONO
  1. Hiragumi-Obijime are braided, flat und between 0,6 cm and 1 cm in width.
  2. Marugumi-Obijime are braided, have a round profile and average at about 0,5 cm to 1 cm in width.
  3. Maruguke-Obijime also have a round profile. However, they aren’t braided, but sewn out of fabric and then, for example, filled with cotton. They have a width of about 0,6 to 1 cm.

Other models

Next to the commonly seen obijime versions, there are also other models. These can be out of leather for example

Obijime aus Leder © K. Partosch
Leather-Obijime © Katharina Partosch

(photo), out of a woven trimming or even a stiff, spun cord. There are hardly any limits to the imagination here.
But there is one characteristic all obijime must have: they can’t be elastic because they have to be able to maintain their shape and length even under the strain of being tied around an obi.
As long as the material won’t elongate and you can still tie a knot with it, it’s qualified to be used as a obi cord.
Of course, the width and thickness of an obijime shouldn’t be exaggerated too much or thinned out the point of no recognition. If you make an obijime about 1 centimeter wide or wider it can become difficult to tie and the knot can become too big. If you make it too thin, however, it just won’t have the necessary strength to do it’s “job“ of keeping your obi in place.

So much for the basics.
You’ll find more information on marugumi, hiragumi und maruguke in the upcoming related articles!

English translation:

The translation of the original version of this article into English was kindly provided by Annie Blackweather, https://annieblackweather.wordpress.com, known on Facebook as Lynn Kiriyumi.

German version: