An obi is an accessory for fixing clothes by winding around the waist from above the kimono. However, the combination with the traditional Japanese clothing is also important, as it is much wider and longer than the belt. The history of the Obi is said to be older than that of kimono, and for samurai, it is a place to put their swords and for women, it was a clothing item to claim personality.
They can also be seen as decorative wall hangings or have their fine material used to make varying accessories. There are many types of kimono obi, most worn by women.
The fukuro obi is a slightly less formal style than the maru obi. It was created in the late 1920s. The fukuro obi is made with a fine brocade or tapestry, which is patterned along 60% of its length on one side. The back of the fukuro obi may be lined with a plain silk or brocade, making it less expensive and less bulky to wear than the maru obi. Even though the fukuro obi is not as quite formal as the maru obi, the fukuro obi can be used for formal occasions. The length and width of the fukuro obi is the same as the maru obi. Thus, fukuro obi can hardly be distinguished from maru obi when tied over the kimono.
The most convenient obi today is the nagoya obi. First produced in the city of Nagoya at the end of the Taisho era (1912-26), the Nagoya obi is lighter and simpler than the fukuro or maru obi. The nagoya obi is characterized by a portion of the obi being pre-folded and stitched in half. The narrow part wraps around the waist, while the wider part forms the bow of the obi tie. When worn, a nagoya obi is tied with a single fold, while a maru or a fukuro obi, being longer, is tied with a double fold.
The hanhaba obi is thus termed, as it has half the width of other obis. The hanhaba obi is a casual obi for wear at home, under an haori, with children’s kimono or with yukata. The fabric and design of the hanhaba obi are simpler to reflect its use for daily wear. Some of the more ornate hanhaba obi is made from a former maru obi. Children’s hanhaba obi is often in very bright colors. It is often made with stenciling technique, rather than an elaborate embroidery or weaving.
In a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony, a bride will wear a white obi. In the Edo era, a widow may dress in all white to signify that she will not remarry.
There is also plain black obi, which is often made with the finest silk woven with barely discernable pattern or design. Sombre, yet lovely, plain black obi is worn as part of the mourning attire.