In the days of honour, valour and the Samurai warrior, there was a special garment called the “haramaki” that was worn around one’s middle. It kept one’s innards warm and provided an extra measure of protection for one’s stomach and kidneys. It was not widely recognised for its ability to parry swords, but it did wonders for the circulation.
As time passed, it was worn almost exclusively by Japanese grannies and the children of neurotic Japanese mothers. Those who did wear them did so secretly, for fear of social ostracism. Now, however, the haramaki is emerging from the shadows and blazing a trendy trail across the fashion world.
The man responsible for the latest trend to come from Japan is Itoi Shigesato, who was a closet haramaki wearer for years. When a knitting company in Niigata approached him with an offer to work on ‘something at some point’, he saw it as the ideal opportunity to change the public’s perception of his beloved belly-warmers, and to make them cool.
The risk paid off and now nearly everyone in Japan owns at least one fashionable haramaki. The craze has hit European markets and is making its way across the Atlantic towards the trend hungry US.
Haramakis can be made from virtually any fabric, so long as it has a little stretch for you to be able to wiggle them on and off. They can be as simple as a plain black knitted tube. You can get jewelled varieties, which look like the leather kidney belts that wrestler or weight lifter wears, except more sparkly.
For those looking to make a more elegant statement there are haramakis made from stretch-satin, which look a bit like girdles, but aren’t as tight. Itoi-san contributes to the diversity of the haramaki market by inviting a high-profile public figure to be a guest designer for a season. One of the most successful guest designers so far has been Yukiko Harada, an illustrator and graphic designer who designed haramaki sets that included a matching blanket.
Unfortunately supply has yet to keep up with demand, and truly fashionable haramakis are difficult to find outside of Japan. Most suppliers cater to the maternity market, as they are ideal for swaddling growing tummies and keeping in utero conditions safe, warm and comfortable.
Belly-warmers work on the principle that when your body is cold it uses its energy to keep your internal organs warm while your arms and legs are left to fend for themselves. The reasoning is that if you keep your core warm, your body will have more reserves to spend on heating your extremities. Haramakis help your body to use its heat more efficiently.
If you want to experience the physical benefits of a haramaki, but don’t have the patience to wait for supplies to become widely available, you can always do as one haramaki fan in San Francisco did and simply customise an old tight top. There is no rule that says DIY haramakis are any less cool than their designer counterparts.