The word kinu (KEE-nu) literally means "silk" in Japanese but was the term for a short coat worn in ancient Japan. It is one of the earliest clothing forms identified as Japanese, and it can be seen on haniwa figurines, sculptured pottery placed in burial mounds, from the Nara period (710–794 c.e.). Its round neckline and tubular sleeves were derived from ancient Chinese dress forms.
The early form of the kinu was more complicated to construct and wear than the kosode, which later became the basic Japanese garment. The kinu was more broadly Asian, having close cousins in the shirts still worn in Korea and Southeast Asia. Its round neckline was fastened closed with a knot, and it had an opening running down the right side of the chest. The front and back of the garment were straight, like bibs, and had long sleeves with open armpits. Although it shares a name with silk, the garment came to Japan before the arrival of silk. The earliest kinu were made of hemp, a fiber made from a tall Asian herb and similar to linen, or other plant fibers.
After the twelfth century c.e., the kinu was worn by warriors as the shirt under a big round-collared robe called a kariginu, literally "hunting robe," which was the informal dress of nobles, the upper class. They were worn for archery and swordsmanship, as well as riding on horseback.
In modern Japan the kinu only exists as a historical reproduction in ceremonial or theatrical usage, but close descendants of the kinu are still worn elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific Islands.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Kennedy, Alan. Japanese Costume: History and Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.
Shaver, Ruth M. Kabuki Costume. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1966.