A few years ago, I am not sure how many exactly, but it wasn’t soooo long ago, a slow change in the garments people were wearing for keiko began. Thicker, heavier dogi were giving way to super light and sporty “jersey” types, especially keikogi. These super-light keikogi looked (and still look mostly) absolutely awful… at least to my eyes.
I personally enjoy the aesthetic of nice patterning and fading on old/worn, keikogi and hakama (and bogu), which is something you just don’t get with jersey material.
Summer in Japan is hot and humid. For this Scottish Highlander it is not a nice time of year, and I often wished I could get some nice looking lighter gear. However, I never once thought about wearing an ugly looking jersey keikogi.
Obviously this wasn’t only my opinion, and at some point manufacturers realised that there was a demand for lighter material (driven mainly by the Japanese heat and humidity) that also looked good. Slowly, over the last few years, things have started to improve.
I said “improve” above but if I am totally honest, the quality of some of the lighter dogi is so good that I have almost completely stopped using heavier keikogi and hakama. Instead, I use the lighter dogi all year round and – during the cold months – wear something under the dogi. Under the keikogi I wear a juban (a white traditional undershirt) and (only when it is very cold) some sort of sport-leggings under the hakama.
I still do have a couple of sets of good quality heavier dogi, but I only break them out now and again, and never between April and October.
Sometimes I honestly wonder how it was I managed to do kendo for all those years (in Japan especially) in such heavy clothing…
With that in mind, todays post is a brief rundown on what I think are good, lighter options for dogi.
When I arrived in Scotland this year to run the Edinburgh kendo seminar, Andy from KendoStar was kind enough to supply me with a ‘KIYOI’ Seiaizome KIRARI-ZASHI keikogi. He knew I wanted a lighter keikogi and that I didn’t want to carry a lot of stuff with me from Osaka to Edinburgh, so this was a big help.
Of course, being picky, I was looking at the link above and wondering if the keikogi wasn’t too “jersey-like.”
Upon receiving it I can honestly say my worries were unfounded: the keikogi was nice and light, yet not “sporty,” and had a unique pattern to it with a traditional feel.
Since coming back from Scotland I have been wearing this keikogi at my work practise pretty much everyday. I put it in the washing machine once, but apart from that all I have done was put it on the shower floor when I showered after keiko, and hung it outside to dry.
It shrank a little bit in the machine, but not enough to be a concern, and the patina is starting to come out nicely. I think that over time it will become even nicer looking.
Verdict: a uniquely patterned keikogi with traditional leanings which is light, easy to wash/take care of, and doesn’t compromise. Would I get another one? I am planning to.
For the last few years a mainstay of my kendo wardrobe has been the “Koshiki all season koshi-zashi keikogi” by All Japan Budogu. When I first started using this keikogi few people were wearing them, but nowadays I see them or similarly patterned keikogi often.
Verdict: uses aizome, so it takes a bit of time to wear them in, but once the dye stops bleeding you are good to go. Light, but not too light, and nice looking. However, remember that they will fade with repeated washes over time.
I have also been using what’s referred to as a “waffle” keikogi for a good 4-5 years now. I bought it from a local store here in Osaka, but they are actually sold in a number of places and re-branded each time, so I am not sure where they actually originate. Here in Osaka, at least, quite a few people use them.
Verdict: light and easy to use, as well as being quite soft. No dye so easy to maintain and the colour won’t fade. Mine shrunk a bit when washed in the washing machine, so you have to be careful. Apart from that, the only down side is that the himo are very low quality.
Apart from the polyester hakama that have been on sale for a long time, newer lighter hakama with different materials were slow to come out. It is only in the last maybe 2 or 3 years that I have started to see them. I still use a polyester hakama in combination with those listed below.
The first of the new kind of super-light hakama I picked up was the “COOL and DRY” summer hakama by some unknown brand. I first spotted it on sale at the Kyoto Taikai, maybe about 3 years ago. I touched it, checked out the price, and thought “that’ll never catch on.” As noted above, I steadfastly refused to get any of the “jersey” material keikogi because they looked absolutely terrible, and a jersey hakama sounded terrible.
Roll on summer 2018 and two people I do kendo with regularly with were suddenly wearing them… and it didn’t look too bad. I hummed and hawed but I finally thought “why not” and bought one to try.
Verdict: the hakama is really super super light, but is impossible to fold properly. It also gets smelly pretty quickly. However, to be honest, it doesn’t actually look terrible, plus it is super simple to wash – literally fling it in the washing machine. Would I wear it to on a grading or to the Kyoto Taikai? No chance. Everyday keiko? Sure.
At the start of summer this year I took a gamble and picked up a second summer hakama: “VIXIA” by Mitsuboshi. I was actually out to buy another one of the “Cool and Dry” hakama mentioned above, but my local shop didn’t stock them. Instead, they suggested this Vixia one to me… so, I gave it a go.
Verdict: super light, easy to maintain, and the pleats are sewn in, making sure it won’t loose its shape. It gets smelly fast, but again is easy to wash. Suitable for everyday keiko and I wouldn’t have any problem wearing it to other dojo. Kyoto Taikai? Maybe not.
Above, I mentioned about receiving the very nice Kiyoi keikogi from KendoStar when I went to Edinburgh this year, at the same time I picked up one of these “Goketsu #8000 Seiaizome Gokujouhin Premium Kendo Hakama“ as well. Not strictly a summer hakama per se, it is however lighter than most.
For the Scottish summer it was fine, but for Japan I will continue to use lighter hakama while it is still super hot. I am, however, planning to switch to this as my main daily hakama when it gets a little bit cooler.
Verdict: it uses aizome, so you will get a bit blue when you first use it. Pleats are sewn in, so it will never lose its shape. It looks more expensive than it costs, and you could easily wear it at a kodansha grading or for the Kyoto Taikai. I think this is as good a hakama as anyone needs.
The title of todays post is “zansho” (残暑) and refers to the heat that lingers on after summer proper is finished. The ZAN is the same as in zanshin, which the meaning of you of course know.
As I write this post today (early September) it is 34 degrees outside, and tomorrow is expected to be 36. The humidity is nowhere near as bad as it has been, but it is still very hot for this highlander. I, for one, am glad that kendo dogi material has evolved over the past few years.