Kataginu are men's vests with broad, wing-like shoulders, worn with hakama, or trousers, to form a kamishimo, or complementary outfit. The hakama are worn in a contrasting color or fabric from the kataginu. Also worn are naga-bakama, trousers in the same fabric as the kataginu, giving the impression of an elegant coverall called naga-gamishimo.

Two Kabuki actors. The man on the left wears a kataginu, a vest with broad shoulders designed for maximum mobility in swordplay or the martial arts. Reproduced by permission of © .

The costume is designed for maximum mobility in swordplay or the martial arts. It was historically worn for combat by samurai warriors. It combined elegant design with the flexibility essential for spontaneous combat. The colors and patterns of the outfit indicated the clan that the samurai served.

The kataginu is built like a big shawl or collar, with a flat panel in back tapering into lapels in the front and eventually two streamers that are tucked into the hakama to secure them. The fabric is usually very stiff silk, linen, or hemp, with a stiff lining.

Kataginu are some of the most ancient forms of Japanese dress, dating from before the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500 C.E. ). They are now seen only in ceremonial costumes worn by Japan's imperial family or in Kabuki theater costumes. In theater the garment always represents the role of any samurai serving the daimyo, or ruler.


Kennedy, Alan. Japanese Costume: History and Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.

Minnich, Helen Benton. Japanese Costume and the Makers of Its Elegant Tradition. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1963.

Shaver, Ruth M. Kabuki Costume. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1966.

[ See also Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Samurai box on p. 208 ; Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Hakama ]

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