A chōken is a broad-sleeved (ōsode 大袖) noh costume of gossamer weave with open cuffs and loose body panels that is worn as an outer robe primarily by roles of women and children in plays containing a long instrumental dance. Bound at the waist it can be used to dress male aristocrats and warrior-courtiers.
Roles and Draping Styles
Women performing long instrumental dances (maigoto) wear chōken draped loosely over the shoulders and hanging free so that the whole costume flows with the body movement. The Celestial Maiden in Hagoromo 羽衣 and the Spirit of the iris flower in Kakitsubata 杜若 wear a chōken over a koshimaki outfit, where a nuihaku 縫箔 is folded down at the waist. Court Women, like Lady Rokujō in Nonomiya 野宮 wear the chōken falling loosely over ōkuchi 大口 pleated trousers. For children, like the boy dancer in Kantan 邯鄲, the body panels of the chōken are bound at the waist, so they rest snug against the ōkuchi. Warrior courtiers, like Atsumori 敦盛 and Tadanori 忠度, also wear the chōken bound at the waist over ōkuchi, but the right sleeve of the chōken is also slipped off, rolled up, and tucked into the belt at the back to facilitate wielding a sword.
Textile Features and Tailoring
The gossamer lightness of the chōken derives from its being tailored from very thin fabric. Most common is ribbed gauze (ro 絽), but simple gauze (sha 紗), sometimes with woven structural or gold patterns, and thin plain weave are alternatives. Patterning is usually done on the loom, often by weaving in strips of gold foil or colored threads, but examples of hand painting, stenciled patterns, appliqué, and embroidery can also be found.
The chōken sleeves are made from two weaving widths and have open cuffs. They are sewn to the body panels at the shoulder. The body panels are stitched together along the center back and allowed to hang free at the front. A narrow collar reaches almost to the hem of the 3/4 length body panels. Braided tassels are attached to the outer corner of the sleeves and braided tying cords are sewn to the front panels at chest level.
Designs and Colors
Ground colors include white, yellow, crimson, purple worn generally by women, and blue, green, and brown favored for male roles. Tying cords hanging from the chest and tassels at the bottom corner of the sleeves are red, yellow, purple, or green. Two styles of designs are common: (1) overall patterns, like scrolling vines or pictorial images and (2) a combination of large crests on the chest and sleeves with lighter, scattered motifs along the hem.
Chōken with flower bundles and paulownia on a purple ground. 紫地花熨斗桐模様長絹. Mid-Edo period (18th century). Tokyo National Museum. []