Jūnihitoe, the robe


Saiō-Dai dressed in jūnihitoe, the twelve layers kimono. Seen during the Aoi Matsuri Festival in Kyoto.

The Aoi Matsuri Festival is a traditional procession of a couple of hundred people dressed according to VIII-XII century court code alongside streets of Kyoto. In the middle of procession there is an unmarried woman, who performs the role of Saiō-Dai. In past times, she was a lady chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo shrine (another shrine on the way of the procession). According to the tradition she is dressed in jūnihitoe that is the most elegant kind of a kimono. It consists in fact of 12 twelve layers of silk garments (hence its name ‘a twelve-layer robe’). The colours of layers depend (or rather depended in the past) on the woman’s position. As the Saio Dai was carried is some kind of a litter it was not possible to see the whole robe. It would be however difficult for the performer to walk in the procession as the junihitoe may weight up to 20 kg. Today, only members of the imperial house wear jūnihitoe on very important occasions.