Is the obi a symbol of women's repression?

Woman Friendly
Trying out Kimono ③
by MISAGO Chidzuru, Professor at Tsuda College

My friend, who often travels to Cambodia, Laos, and Southern Asia said something. “The traditional dress of Asia is really wonderful, but kimono is such a strange costume. It’s hard to move in, restricting, really, all that wrapping of the obi is just weird. Isn’t it a symbol of repression? I don’t think it is a woman friendly costume.”
When I was young, I thought so too. The Thai patoun, the Indonesian sarong, the Vietnamese aozai, the Indian sari, and the Korean Chimachogori, they all a dynamic and easy elegance. In India, women wear the sari work at public construction sites. Whether women should be working at such jobs is another question, but in any cause, it is a traditional garment that jobs of manual labor can be done in. I wish kimono were so. It’d be impossible in kimono: we can wear kimono for Tea and flower arrangement, and maybe at the Coming of Age and Graduation ceremonies, but that’s all. It’s painful and hard to wear… That’s what I thought.
When I first started to wear kimono everyday, that’s when I first noticed. Among all the traditional costumes of Asia, kimono was the only costume cruel to women. That is completely untrue. The obi is not a symbol of repression. The obi is a good thing which clearly gives protection to women from the naturally large changes in temperature that occur with the distinctly changing seasons.
Midwives always say women who are pregnant “Have your belly wrapped in 10 layers so you don’t get chilled.” Women musn’t let their lower abdomen get chilled. Not just those pregnant, but all women should be careful about this, as it was drilled into those born before the second generation. Of course in summer, but even in winter 10 layers was crazy, I thought. But wearing kimono this is done naturally. Putting on the susoyoke, then the hadajuban, then the nagajuban, then the kimono, and wrapping the obi around, it comes to about 10 layers.
Dressed like this, one mysteriously does not get chilled. Even the hands and feet stay much warmer than when wearing western clothing. When the stomach is wrapped up well, one develops a feeling that when, as literature puts it, seated from my stomach, I’m ready for anything. It protects the mind and body both. In modern times, those troubled by the cold are increasing. So I truly feel it would be good if kimono became a beloved garment used everyday. Next time, I want to introduce a way to comfortably fasten the obi without the torso suffering.