Temperatures are below zero for most of the week in Germany, where hipi is based. One way to keep warm? Take an age-old tip from the Japanese that has been making somewhat of a comeback, the haramaki belly wrap, writes hipi creator Chee Su-Lin.
I remember those early days when I first came out with the hipi and got my friends to try it. My Japanese pal said that it reminded her of the haramaki belly wrap (腹巻).
As an ethnically Chinese Malaysian national, I grew up after the touchy early 20th-century history between the Japanese and Chinese. To give you a clue, Hello Kitty was born in the same year as me (sometime in the 70s) and I grew up a Sanrio groupie. A more recent trip reinforced my fascination for Japan, seeing in person its green, tranquil countryside and nature-based Shinto heritage.
I was pleased then, that the hipi‘s rather unorthodox form (not quite a belt or a bag) evokes the Japanese obi kimono belt. I remember my first introduction to the obi (also the name of one of Germany’s largest home improvement stores, funnily enough) through an American friend of mine who boldly wore it atop a bustier to a chi-chi event in Kuala Lumpur (I went equally brashly with shorts and hat).
Imagine my delight then when my friend told me that the hipi has another Japanese precursor, with a completely different function: belly warming! The haramaki apparently started in feudal Japan as a type of armour, put on from the front and fastened in the back.
It then evolved to be a circular fabric tube worn around the midriff, according to this great article in The Japans blog. It was considered out-of-date underwear for old men, however, with one pop culture example being Tora-san, a movie character who was a kind but unlucky-in-love vagabond.
According to The Japans, the haramaki saw a trendy re-emergence around the late noughties, thanks to Japanese writer, game designer and entrepreneur Itoi Shigesato.
Shigesato’s big claim to fame seems to be designing the Nintendo game Mother 2 (of which I have no clue as I play only Tetris, Snake and Solitaire, if any). Being a mother of two young kids, however, I have lost some coin to the company that evolved from the video game company Shigesato founded, Creatures Inc., producer of the Pokémon Trading Card Game and Pokémon toys.
Falling into an internet hole researching him, I have fallen in love with so much more, however. Firstly, his pet name is apparently Darling, which I am still tossing over as an overarching brand name in tribute to my kids and the Julie Christie classic.
Secondly, he co-authored short stories titled Yume de Aimashou (“Let’s meet in a dream”) with Haruki Murakami (Okay, I only really remember reading one novel by Murakami, but I remember it being bloody good).
Mostly, he sounds like a quirky character who wears his heart on his sleeve, as much as I like to think I am and that the rest of the world should be, but is only rarely. Since 1998, he has run his website which curiously combines daily personally-written essays with a label which designs and produces little physical creations for our daily lives, ranging from notebooks to a flavour of cup noodles, produced in collaboration with Nissin Foods and 7-Eleven.
It is called Hobonichi or I believe, more formally, Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun (ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞). I love that this means “Almost Daily Itoi Newspaper”. As an ex-journalist myself, God knows, inspiration doesn’t come on fixed rotation 🙂
“Itoi had been wearing haramaki for years despite their old-fashioned reputation and perception as an unfashionable undergarment,” writes The Japans, “when he started selling haramaki in 2001 through his company Hobonichi.”
Discontinued in 2009, haramaki is still being produced as utilitarian garments you can get on Amazon or Wish, but also by small creative labels such as British shop Nukunuku or on Etsy.
So yes, even though haramaki may not be trendy right this moment, I hope we can call upon the spirit of Itoi Shigesato to appreciate that a prosaic item helping you keep warm in winter, not to mention your phone and other essentials close, can be as beautiful as a piece of poetry.
Certainly, if you are living anywhere near the latitudes of where hipi is, it will be ccc-cold for at least another two months, and we’d only be too happy to keep you warm and cosy.
hipi sleek protective hip bags in sizes S and M are available for 29€ from https://www.hipi.fit/buy/.