= Men’s Accessories =

by Joshua L. Badgley

In any discussion of clothing, we need to remember to also look at not just the garments, but also at the various accessories, to include things like footwear, belts, pouches, religious icons, weapons and more. It is often these little details that really complete the outfit, and provide small details about the individual. These may simply imply profession, such as the distinctive tools of the yamabushi, or may be a pass to privilege, such as the formal gyotai, which allowed access into more inner areas of the imperial palace.


This unassuming piece of jewelry, worn on the side hanging from the woven belt, or hirao, was an important symbol in the court as it marked an individual as one of the vaunted tenjōbito, allowed into the palace itself, as opposed to the lower ranking jige (literally “down on the ground”). This was imported from the Chinese court, where it appears to have been a glass or jewel carved in the shape of a fish and then suspended from the belt in a small bag. In fact, gyotai literally means “fish bag.”.

The earliest examples, from the Nara period, are simply ornamental fish on a string that could dangle from the side. Over time, in China and in Japan, it took on the specific shape shown here: a rectangular block of wood, covered in ray skin, surrounded by a metal band (either silver or gold) with a wave-like pattern and four to six fish on one side and one on the other. The specifics of the ornament could vary depending on the artist, but they didn't vary too far from this mold.


This is an ōgi specifically made of hinoki, or Japanese cedar wood. Unlike the women's version of the same thing, men's appear relatively plain and practical, so while it may be decorated with paintings or drawings, it would not have colorful, trailing cords often seen on those held by women.

This was considered a winter fan, in contrast to the kawahori ōgi.


A woven, fabric belt that was worn as a part of the sokutai, it went through several steps in its evolution. During the Nara period, it was not uncommon to see woven belts, or obi, used for both men and women, and it was a common part of any outfit. As the court clothing grew more stylized, so did this belt, which went from a single, woven belt, to two separate pieces. The actual belt, today, is often made of patterned fabric, while the elaborately woven decorative panel is made to hang from that.

The woven part of the hirao is handwoven on a karakumidai, or Chinese style braiding loom. This produces the characteristically wide, flat braid with intricate patterns on the face. It is not uncommon to see variegated thread being used, transitioning from purple to white, and dyed before being woven, much like an ikat fabric. The very bottom is left unbraided, to create a long fringe.

When wearing a tachi, or sword, e.g. with the bukan sokutai, or other ornaments, these are often suspended from the waist cord of the hirao, rather than the sekitai.


This is an oversleeve, most commonly used when practicing archery, particularly when wearing large sleeves, such as those on a kariginu or hōi. As such, you typically only find one sleeve, worn on the left arm. The pattern is similar to that for the yoshitsune gote without the added plates.

Also called yugote.

Ishi no obi

See sekitai.

Kawahori ōgi

This fan, or ōgi, is made with very thin ribs, and usually only a few, that are attached on one or two sides to paper. This paper fan only opens to about 90 degrees, as opposed to more typical fans. The spindly ribs and paper are likely how it got its name: the kanji for kawahori translate to "bat".

This was considered a summer fan, in contrast to the hiōgi.


Literally translated as “leather belt,” this fashion accessory was brought over from the mainland. They are long, leather belts, often lacquered, and almost always with stone or metal belt plaques lining the area that would go around the waist. The belts were much longer than needed, usually exceeding the wearer's girth by several feet, allowing the ends to hang down or be tucked in back. This eventually became the sekitai seen in sokutai sugata of the Heian period and later.

Early evidence shows metal plaques of square, round, or half round shapes, typically of bronze. These had slits that went through the belt itself, allowing smaller leather thongs to be suspended from them, along with various tools, jewelry, etc. There were also decorative stone plaques that were used as well, and those seem to have become popular later on, likely due to changes in fashion.

There are a few extant examples of this kind of belt in the Shōsōin in Nara, as well as an example kept at the Dazaifu Tenmangu, in Kyūshū. The latter is believed to have belonged to Sugawara Michizane, a 10th century nobleman and ambassador to the court of China. His belt is bejeweled with highly decorative plaques along its entire length. Another extant piece uses lapis that comes from somewhere near modern-day Afghanistan or Iran. This is unsurprising as the belts appear to have enjoyed popularity along the silk road, and may have been inspired, at least in part, by Persian or Sogdian fashions that became popular in the Tang court.


These are simple leg wraps, designed to protect against mud and dirt. They are typically worn over hakama, though commoners are occasionally depicted with kyahan on their otherwise bare legs.


Deerskin chaps, worn with the karisōzoku sugata, the traditional hunting outfit.


This is a fan made of slats of wood, rather than paper on a wooden frame. Thin slats of tapered wood are joined together at a whole in the bottom, and then at the top and middle with thin thread, so that they can open and close, but not too far. This is the original folding fan and depending on the wealth of the owner it may be highly decorated, with painted scenes and figures, or relatively plain. Later, it would be replaced in common use by the well-known sensu style paper folding fans, though they remained in use at the court.


The sekitai, or stone belt, is the namesake for the sokutai sugata, the typical court outfit for the nobility from the Heian period and onward.

This "belt" is made up of two separate strips of black lacquered leather, tied together at one end through holes in the brass fittings on either end of the leather. One half of the belt has a set of white stones, square and round (the exact configuration depends on the school of etiquette that one follows), tied to the outside. That same piece has cords at either end that allow the belt to be tied on. When worn, the section with the stones is placed at the center of the lower back. This places it in the hakoe on the hoeki no hō or simply along the back with the ketteki no hō. The other end is looped up and back down, a stone at the end allowing it to stay in position.

The sekitai, sometimes read as ishi no obi, is an outgrowth of the kawaobi, or leather belts, imported with mainland Chinese fashion in the Asuka and Nara periods. The loop is a stylized version of what would happen with the ends of these extremely long belts, tucked behind the wearer in most instances. The stones were originally plaques of stone or metal that originally had a practical function, but by the Heian period were purely decorative.


The shaku is a flat wooden baton, held by court officials as part of their official bunkan sokutai. This is also carried by Shinto priests, and as such it is still made for that purpose.

The shape is typically rounded on both ends, tapered from the bottom to the top, both in width and thickness.

The shaku is typically held in the right hand, with the thumb and little finger behind and the other three fingers around the front, which helps to keep the shaku upright.

Some early shaku are actually rectangular in shape, with markings at specified intervals, likely due to use as a ruler, a critical tool for court officials, whose job primarily consisted of writing and copying documents. However, there is also evidence, early on, for the use of simply a ceremonial baton or scepter that signified one’s rank. Those of the 6th rank and below had mokushaku (wooden shaku) and geshaku (ivory shaku). Over time, it morphed into the ceremonial baton seen today.


These are folded up packets of paper, typically one red and one white. They are usually included as a part of the sokutai, tucked into the open breast, providing a splash of color and an agreeable shape.



This is a "pot quiver", referring to its shape. This is as opposed to the boxier and open hirayanagui.


An open quiver, with a box at the bottom and an open structure above.


A leather glove, held on by a long leather cord. They are still used for kyūdō, traditional Japanese archery.


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