In kyoto, May is the month for Aoi Matsuri (葵祭, Aoi Festival), one of the three famous festivals in Kyoto, along with the other two, namely Jidai Matsuri (時代祭り, Festival of the Ages) and Gion Matsuri (祇園祭). It is said that, in the Heian (平安) period during which Genji Monogatari (源氏物語, The tale of Genji) was written, Aoi Matsuri was the most popular one in Kyoto.
The main character of the festival is Saioh-dai (斎王代) starred by an unmarried young lady selected from the public. The job title Saioh (斎王) is the head of shrine maiden of Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮) shrine or Kamo (賀茂) shrine, and is selected from the royal family princesses. The kanji character "代” means a substitute, hence, Saioh-dai literally means the representative of Saioh.
Since Saioh is a princess, her attire for the festival parade is a very gorgeous and most formal set of Kimono called Jyunihitoe (十二単衣, twelve layered Kimono), whose official name is Itsutsuginu Karaginumo (五衣唐衣裳). A very complicated sound even for a Japanese. The gross weight of the attire is about 44 pounds and it's almost impossible to move around in it. However, in the Heian period, there must have been no problem because the Heian noble men and women had many servants enough to do everything for them. Some people say, the old Jyunihitoe were not so heavy like that of today.
The most interesting thing for me is its dressing technique. The required items for dressing Jyunihitoe are two pieces of string only. The string is pulled out after the next layer is worn so that no other item is required.
I guess people in the Heian period valued the beauty of the color gradation of the twelve layer, than the beauty of each individual Kimono which creates the layer. It was great fun for me to view the spectacle of Aoi Matsuri parade, especially the attire of Saioh-dai in that kind of point of view.
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