Stepping Back in Time: Becoming 12-Layered Princess of Heian Period

New York, N.Y. I had an interesting experience this New Year: I dressed up, wearing twelve layers of royal costume and transformed myself into a Heian-era princess!

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Where I went was a long-standing store called “Iyasaka” in Fushimi, Kyoto, which is used to make costumes for shrines and our Imperial court. The costumes are woven from silk yarn, but the yarn itself are all made by hand by themselves in their own hands, and when silkworm cocoon was steamed, a special ceremony is performed, and a cloth is made using this silk yarn drawn from the worms here one by one. To make a costume. The uncut is turned into real thres by eea==waeven three starands toether. The cloth wovne formt his threa. It is a story that makes you feel like faitning, but it shows how much they care about ancient tradition. I should know this. after all, I am from old celebrated silk family.

Hairstyle and Makeup Also in Heian Era

Not only the costume but also the hair style can be chosen from two types of wigs imitating the haircuts of old princess and I felt that I was truly a princess of the Heian period 1200 years ago. I had a long hair style with a familiar round hair style and a long hair shape hanging on the back that I could see with patterns such as Karuta paitingin.

Now, it is time to get dressed. Everyone saw this hairstyle in the papers recently as new empress

The twelve layers were all beautiful: first is a bright red rose, and a white rose. At this stage there are already more than 3 layers already overlapping. On top of that, yellow, green, red, purple, etc. In fact, beautiful kimonos will be piled up one after another, so just looking at the colors one by one looks enchanting. Everything is made of silk interwoven with patterns and even those that look plain are interwoven with patterns

Twelve-layers is a formal dress worn by noble women during the Heian period, but is still worn at events of the imperial family. People at Heian period of time were very fashionable, what colors would be on the outer and lining, with layers what colors to bring up and down, and so on. It is said that it was attached. There are many names derived from the seasons, for example, a combination that has a fresh pinkish green like a pale green, with a pale pink “usukoubai” as the front fabric, and a “green” like the “green” as the back fabric. It is said that there is a name “momo-shige.” (spring)

Name and Meaning of the Patterns

Each layer has a color corresponding to a season, each with a name, in the form of a round shape like a crest has a name and meaning properly, and the one that I wore is “a round crest of a butterfly on a turtle shell,” so the pattern in the ground has the shape of a turtle shell .This means that they wish to have a longevity of one million years, and that they will definitely move forward step by step.

The mauve, which has a desire for longevity and prosperity, has the meaning of keeping things in step with you from the beginning to the end. The politeness of the mind that can be put into every single Japanese is wonderful. The Japanese mind is wonderful beacuese it very dilifently adds meanining to every aspect of their lives.

By the way, people think that it feels very heavy to hear I wore twelve layers , but I was surprised when I wore it as it had a feather-like weight. One ties the strings when one wear first one but when the next one is worn, and tied, the first string is taken away, I take the string of inner one. Everytime one wear, the string of previous one is taken away. So, in the end, we will be tied the whole with two or three strings. Unlike ordinary kimonos, they are light as they have no obi. The whole twelve layers float like a feather.

Anecdote of  “Battle of Dannoura”

At the famous “Dannoura Battle” (1185), Japan’s first national civil war “Genpei Battle,” Tokiko (Wife of Kiyomori’s wife) held a young Emperor Antoku, and said to him “At the bottom of this sea, an extravagant Pure Land under the Wave so we are going there” they jumped into the sea. But the air came in between the twelve layers of Tokiko’s costume, and floated up softly, and they were saved by someone. Minamoto Yoritomo searched and searched decades for the whereabouts of Tokiko and Antoku Emperor, and the Tenkuun-sword, which is one of the sacred treasures of the emperor’s households, for several years, but it has never been found.



On the day when this manuscript was finished, an article of Emperor Antoku appeared on the Asahi Shimbun (February 23, 2019). According to the article (and I often have faced this kind of thing), the Emperor Antoku survived in the Shikoku mountainous area and takes a wife in Yokokurayama in Kochi prefecture and dies at 23 years old in 1200, It is said that there is also the tomb of Antoku Emperor. Did the costume of twelve layers save their lives?

Mysterious Feelings that Time Slipped

Wearing Twelve layers will make feel like a time-slip, so it is so mysterious, forget the reality of yourself today and your time, and feel so fluffy and elegant. I am truly grateful for this valuable experience as a peaceful old Japanese.

Originally published as Vol. 63 in Weekly Biz, March 9, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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