The ho is the outermost robe of the ceremonial form of dress called sokutai, the Japanese equivalent of the Western man's formal suit. Noblemen, or those of the upper class, were wearing sokutai back in the Heian period (794–1185 C.E. ), and today the crown prince of Japan wears this costume in official ceremonies. The ho robe is made of a finely woven silk that is transparent and extremely stiff from having been starched. It has large open sleeves that reveal the layers below.
The ho is especially beautiful in its color and how it coordinates with the colors of the rest of the clothing ensemble, especially the layer beneath it. The Japanese term for this color sense is kasaneno irome. It means that the colors of each item of the sokutai are carefully mixed and carry messages about the occasion and the season, as well as the tradition of the imperial, or royal, household and history.
Many Japanese believe that fashion was at its greatest level of sophistication during the Heian period and that is why the sokutai has been preserved to the present day for the most important ceremonies. The clothing ideals of the time were to combine a love of beauty with an appreciation of nature. All of the patterns, textures, and colors of the various elements of the outfit were derived from the experience of the natural world.
Kennedy, Alan. Japanese Costume: History and Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.
Shaver, Ruth M. Kabuki Costume. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1966.
Yamanobe, Tomoyuki. Textiles. Translated by Lynn Katoh. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1957.