Kimono Diary: December 2015

Yes, it’s been a while.  It’s also been a very, very busy December for me with lots going on.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the Twelve Days of Kitsuke video series that I’ve been posting in the meantime.  Here’s what been happening with me lately.

First, I got to help some friends move into a new home just before Christmas.  The house is a large, traditional style Japanese house with tatami flooring, sliding doors, and everything else you would expect to find.  The last owner died around five years ago and the family now lives in the Kansai area.  They have no interest in the house or contents and have been generous enough to let my friends (and me!) take what we want from the house.  This is hue to me because between tansu and closets, there are around 100 kimono scattered throughout the house.  I’m currently sorting them into three categories.

  1. Are you sure the family doesn’t want this valuable/possibly sentimental piece?  Maybe you should double check before I give it a new home?
  2. These are incredible pieces that I would love to add to my collection!
  3. These are really common pieces that I already have or I can’t wear because they’re too small.

My friends have asked me to help them choose kimono as gifts for family back home, so once the sorting is done, I’ll give them first choice from category two before I go to town!

Next, I got to wear kimono for Christmas!

And I forgot to take photos of it!

Blah.

Oh well.  I was going out for Christmas dinner with some friends and I had some restrictions I had to think about when I was choosing my outfit.  First, I knew that smoking was going to be an issue at the restaurant.  As would strong food smells.  I didn’t want to wear silk just because I couldn’t wash it afterwards to get all the smoke and food smells out.  That limited me to my polyester collection.  I also had to balance between wearing enough layers to be warm on the walk to and from the restaurant, but also so that I wouldn’t overheat while I was in the restaurant.  Well, I succeeded on the second goal, but I kinda failed on the first, especially on the walk home when it got really, really cold.  With these restrictions in mind, I couldn’t put together an outfit in appropriate Christmas colors, so instead I decided on Japanese celebratory motifs and chose an obi with shochikubai (pine, bamboo, and plum) on it.

Just after Christmas, I went to Tokyo for a few days to renew my passport.  And of course, I couldn’t resist some kimono shopping.  I got some incredible pieces and I was very, very grateful for the second bag that I took with me.  As I get them co-ordinated, I’ll post photos of them!

Finally, I had a quite New Years at home with my husband.  At midnight, we walked up to the local temple and rang the bell.  On New Year’s Day, we went to a local shrine to offer a prayer for the new year.  My prayer never changes.  Good health.  I figure, if you have your health, everything else will eventually fall into place.

Of course, I wore a kimono that day.  And I took pictures this time!!!

Waiting in line to offer a prayer.  I was the only person in kimono, and I felt more conspicuous than ever!

Waiting in line to offer a prayer. I was the only person in kimono, and I felt more conspicuous than ever!

This shrine normally doesn't have any attendants, so I suspect these miko are local college students earning some extra cash.

This shrine normally doesn’t have any attendants, so I suspect these miko are local college students earning some extra cash.

This cute omikuji (a prediction of your fortune) was in the shape of a kimono!

This cute omikuji (a prediction of your fortune) was in the shape of a kimono!

Lunch!

Lunch!

Me in my kimono in front of the shrine.

Me in my kimono in front of the shrine.

This kimono happens to be a houmongi with a bamboo motif.  It's difficult to see, but there is silver embroidery subtly placed among the dyed design.

This kimono happens to be a houmongi with a bamboo motif. It’s difficult to see, but there is silver embroidery subtly placed among the dyed design.

The back of the kimono has a single crest, embroidered in silver thread.

The back of the kimono has a single crest, embroidered in silver thread.

I love this obi!

I love this obi!

This obi has so much going on!  I can only wear it at New Years.  the lobster is an auspicious motif that has ties to the special food served on New Years (osechi).  The bamboo and cranes are also auspicious.  The kanji is "kotobuki" and it means celebration or a long life.

This obi has so much going on! I can only wear it at New Years. the lobster is an auspicious motif that has ties to the special food served on New Years (osechi). The bamboo and cranes are also auspicious. The kanji is “kotobuki” and it means celebration or a long life.

 

Finally, I made some New Year’s resolutions.  Well, some are resolutions, and some are goals.

Resolution #1: Use what I have.  I will shop for kimono and accesories with what I already have in mind instead of buying things that are pretty.  I am trying to save more money this year, and I admit that most of my disposible income goes towards kimono.

Goal #1: Keep working on long term projects and building this website.  I have some ideas in mind, but they haven’t been planned out yet, so I won’t say what they are just yet!

Goal #2: Keep working on my Pop Culture Kimono series.  I have only completed one video in the series so far, but I want to do more!  I’ve already chosen the media I want to talk about, I just have to write a script.  Oh, and do the recordings.  Oh yeah.  I need to edit it together too.  Guess I better get to work!

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu everyone!  I hope you have a wonderful 2016!

Kimono Diary: November 17th-23rd

Things were up and down this week for me. Fortunately, the ups outnumbered the downs. But only by one. So here’s what happened.

First, I finished it! Just a few hours ago too! The project I’ve been working on since September! I have a Christmas present for all of you. Starting later this week, on my YouTube channel (here) you can find (drum-roll please) The Twelve Days of Kitsuke! During the month of December, I will be posting videos (about every other day) with instructions for tying twelve different obi musubi. I hope you enjoy the videos. It’s the least I can do for everyone who has read my blog, contacted me, liked my Facebook page, and generally let me know that what I am doing is appreciated. So thank you so much everyone, I hope you enjoy the videos.

The second good thing that happened is that I finally got back into teaching after a month’s hiatus. It was really great seeing my regular students again. We moved on from hanhaba obi to Nagoya obi this week, and we’ll continue again next week.

Now for the bad news. I had a wasai lesson scheduled for Sunday. Again, my first in a month. But things weren’t going my way on Sunday. I woke up with a massive migraine. I had to cancel and I spent all day like a vampire; in the dark. I finally started feeling better around five at night. I survived on saltine crackers and green tea that day. Needless to say, I didn’t get much done that day.

Hope you all have a good week!

Kimono Diary: November 2nd-16th

I know, I know. I broke a promise! I promised to write a kimono diary every week, and last week I missed it. My apologies, but honestly, nothing kimono related really happened that week. I just couldn’t think of anything to write about. This week was markedly different though!

First, I finished my last day of dressing children for shichi-go-san. I had a squirmy-wormy boy this week. He just couldn’t stop moving, even with me and his mother telling him to stand still. I struggled to dress him, and my teacher had to redo a couple of things when I was done. I know that I dressed a lot of kids to the standards that I, my teachers, and the studio keep, but my mind keeps going back to the few kids (like Squirmy Wormy) that I know I missed something on. It wasn’t anything major. Just small things like a seam being too far to the front, or a collar showing too much, or an obi showing too little. Those things bug me. And even if the parents didn’t notice, I did. Usually after it was too late to fix it. The one saving grace I had was that I know the photographer was the last line of defense. If the child wouldn’t look good in the photo, then they would be sent back for redressing.

I went kimono shopping with a few friends on Sunday. They had lists of things they wanted to add to their collection, and I was their walking, talking, encyclopedia armed with a himo to help them try everything on! They came away with bags full of wonderful kimono, hakama, haori, and other goodies, and I even got some good deals in as well.

I also had an unsettling experience that reflects back on my kimono diary. I had tried on a kimono, tied the himo, and then got distracted by one of my friends asking a question. When I refocused on getting dressed, trying to create the ohashori, I felt a sharp tug on the back of my kimono. I turned around to find a woman pulling on the kimono and telling me how to put it on. I actually took a step back because it made me feel so uncomfortable and told her I was alright. And just like many times before, it took several repetitions of “I’m ok.” And “I’m a kitsuke teacher.” For her to finally back off. It really was very, very disconcerting.

My upcoming week should be good as well. After a month, my wasai lessons will finally be starting up again, and I’m finally looking at the tail end of a long, long project so I’ll finally have time to dedicate to other things, like posting more info on this blog. I always feel that the motifs section gets forgotten about, and I’m hoping to add some more motifs soon. If anybody has any motifs that you’re particularly interested in, please let me know.  I usually try to write about seasonal motifs during the appropriate season, but I’ll also take requests.

I also ended up adding some practical info on dressing children for shichi-go-san. You can find the post here.

Have a good kitsuke week!

Kimono Diary: October 26th-November 1st 2015

I always hesitate to go shopping in new kimono stores.

For those of you who don’t live in Japan, you may be shouting at the screen right now. “How could you not like going into new stores??? Think of all the beautiful kimono and obi that you’re missing out on!”

Well, I had two experiences this weekend that highlight exactly why I don’t enjoy going into a new store for the first time. They were both more negative encounters than most that I have had. But before I get to these more negative experiences, here’s how a usual interaction goes.

 

I will enter the store and start looking around. Almost immediately, a sales clerk will start following me around. Really, really, close. This bothers me in ANY store I go into, so kimono stores are no exception. But then, usually, they will point at something and say, “obijime desu.” (This is an obijime). “Obi desu.” (This is an obi).

Now, I understand this reaction. I am a foreigner in a store that sells items that most Japanese people don’t have a lot of knowledge about, let alone a foreigner. They don’t expect me to know anything. I understand. But it gets old very, very fast. Especially when I visit multiple stores in one day. When it does happen, I usually respond with “Hai, fukuro obi desu ne?” (Yes. It’s a fukuro obi isn’t it?) Showing them that I have even a bit of knowledge usually gets a positive, surprised reaction most of the time, and it usually leads to a conversation about kimono and kitsuke.

These initial interactions have led to some great relationships between me and some of the local stores. They know what I like and how much I’m comfortable spending and they are quick to show me new pieces when I come in. They are also the ones to explain to new customers that I’m a teacher and I know what I’m doing when they see me trying on a new piece for size. These shops are my favorite places to shop. I feel very comfortable there.

This weekend, I discovered a local flea market, complete with kimono vendors. I had never been there before, and I expected the usual interactions that I’ve had before. Here’s what happened.

 

I spotted a kimono that I liked and examined it for damage and size. I quickly figured out that it was too small for me and put it back. As soon as I let go, another shopper, an older woman, ran up to me, grabbed the kimono, and put it on my shoulders. Here’s the conversation that took place (all in Japanese).

Woman: Let me dress you in the kimono.

Me: No, that’s ok. It’s too small.

Woman (to the stall owner): Do you have a himo?

Me: It’s ok. I’m a kitsuke teacher.

Woman: un (sound of acknowledgement) then measures the length.

Woman: ah, it’s too small.

Me: Yes, I know. I’m a kitsuke teacher.

Woman: The length is too small.

Me: Yes. The yuki is too small too.

Woman: Eeeeeeeh! You know what the yuki is?

Me: Yes. I’m a kitsuke teacher.

Finally, after three repetitions, she had heard me. And we had a great conversation after that about tea ceremony (she turned out to be a tea ceremony teacher).

But it bugged me. Again, it took me throwing out a technical term for her to actually listen to what I was telling her. It was a minor annoyance I know, but it was still an annoyance.

 

The second event happened the same day at dinner at a friend’s house. He had a friend over who wanted to try out his English, and the following conversation took place.

Man: Can you wear kimono?

Me: Yes, I can.

My proud husband: She is a kitsuke teacher.

Man: You are liar.

Ouch. That hurt. Yes, I know there was a language barrier. The same word in Japanese (uso!) has a lighter connotation than liar and I know he was just translating directly from one language to the other, but it got me wondering if I should just print off a copy of my license and keep it in my pocket to prove it. As it is, I did have a photo of it on my phone and pulled it out to show him.

And I realized something; that I will always have to prove that I know what I’m talking about. Every day, as long as I am a kitsuke teacher, I will be second-guessed and dismissed until I prove that I do know what I’m doing. It’s a depressing thought. And I know it’s not exclusive to me or my situation. But it’s still depressing.

I don’t like having to prove myself every single time, and that is why I hesitate to go shopping in a new kimono store.

Kimono Diary: October 19-25th, 2015

How can you say no to these faces?

How can you say no to these faces?

Welcome back! I hope you all had a good week. I’m a little late with this diary because my Sunday was very busy. Not with kimono related events, but with a visit to a local farmer’s market, dinner with friends, and a couple of unexpected guests we picked up (after we almost hit them!) on the way to dinner. Kittens! I have really bad cat allergies, so I couldn’t touch them, hold them, or help clean them up (and I wanted to so badly, they were so cute!)   Fortunately, the friends we were with were thinking about getting some cats anyway, and it was love at first sight! As you can imagine, our evening plans got a little waylaid.

This week, there were two large events that dominated my kimono life. First was my second day helping to dress kids for shichi-go-san. I’m finally getting a handle on the boys and on the three-year-old girls, but I still struggle with the seven-year-old girls, especially with the ohashori. The kimono are designed to fit a wide variety of girls, so they’re larger than usual on most girls, and there’s a ton of extra fabric I have to squirrel away under the obi. I’m only an assistant helping my teachers, but there were so many kids on Saturday that I had to dress kids myself. I ended up dressing the seven-year-old girls up until the ohashori, then switch with my teacher to dress another kid. I’m hoping to get some more experience next week and finally get the hang of it.  I also got a nice compliment at the end of the day.  The manager asked if I would be around next year, because she wants to hire me directly for the period of shichi-go-san.  I guess that means I didn’t screw up to badly!

The other big event in my life is the beginning of a new series of videos on my Youtube channel. I call it Pop Culture Kimono, and the goal of these videos is to introduce kimono knowledge to the general population through popular characters in movies, games, etc. People complain so much about cultural appropriation with kimono and people thinking that kimono=geisha and I hope to dispel some of those myths. My first video is on a video game called Fatal Frame 5. I worked with a good friend of mine who publishes let’s plays on her Youtube channel, and Fatal Frame 5 was her first game (incidentally, she’s also the friend with two new kittens at home!)  You can see the video in my previous post.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy your kitsuke!

 

Kimono Diary October 12-18, 2015

What a week! It seems that my weekends are becoming busier than my weekdays, and this weekend was no exception.

Saturday=Shichi-Go-San

Yes, shichi-go-san. This past weekend, and for three weeks in the future, I’ll be volunteering at a local photo studio dressing children for shichi-go-san. I’ve mentioned my practice sessions in past kimono diaries, but this weekend I got to put those lesson into use. My teachers and I dressed kids from as young as one year old, all the way up to ten years old. Yes, it’s traditional for only three, five, and seven year olds to get dressed, but when you have a sibling as well, lots of parents want to have pictures of their kids together.

For the really little babies, I got a big surprise looking at the kimono that they wear. It’s actually two pieces that look like a completed kimono and hifu combination when they’re on. The bottom half is just a skirt with an elastic waistband. Really, really convenient for dressing a squirming, crying baby!

And boy, was there crying. I was actually expecting them to cry when they saw me (the foreigner) especially the really young ones, but that didn’t seem to be the thing that set them off. It was things like not liking the feel of tabi on their feet, being around too many strangers (not just me), and being forced into the third outfit of the day by their over-eager parents (they had tiny suits and costumes as well as kimono).

The oldest girl we dressed was a ten-year-old girl (her younger sister was seven). For young girls, kitsuke is different from adult kitsuke. For example, the collar sits right against the neck instead of being pulled back, and a shigoki goes around the bottom edge of the obi. However, when a girl turns ten, she begins dressing like an adult, so these features change. We were constantly checking with each other if we should do certain elements like the child version, or like the adult version when we were dressing her.

Sorry, there are no pictures of this part of my weekend.  Restrictions on privacy and all that.  However…

 

Sunday=Aki Matsuri

And you thought matsuri only took place in the summer! Aki matsuri (autumn festivals) are very different from summer ones. The gods are taken from their home temple in a portable shrine to another temple or shrine nearby. They’re accompanied by drums and gongs either pulled or carried by a group of men.

My husband was invited to carry the band along with about forty other people. This presented a conundrum to me, to wear kimono or not to wear kimono. I decided to wear kimono, and chose a fancier yukata that I wore with a juban. Since it was still so warm, I didn’t want to wear a fully lined kimono, and I didn’t want to stand out any more than I already do.

Then, just as I had finished getting dressed, a different aki matsuri passed right by our apartment, and not a single person was in kimono. That fact, combined with the fact that I had no idea how long or far I would be walking, meant that I decided to undress and change to western clothes.

And I’m kinda glad I did. The festival ended five hours after it started, and there was nowhere to sit down, except on the ground, something that I was reluctant to do in jeans and t-shirt and would not even consider doing in a kimono!

And the matsuri was wonderful. Lots of sake and snacks for people participating in it, kimono worn by the priests that looked like they came out of the Heian Era, and lots of people to talk to. I had a ton of parents pushing their children in front of me to practice speaking their English. This brought on reactions ranging from “No way!” (said in perfect English) to kids begging me to become their English teacher at school and promises to come back next year.

My husband had a tougher time of it. He was a part of the carrying team, and he’s several centimeters taller than everyone else there. He just couldn’t find a comfortable position to carry a large log on his shoulders without stooping and hurting his back and his sides. He told me as he laid down that night, “It hurts when I live!”

Before the pain started!

Before the pain started!

 

You can see the portable shrine in the front of the procession.

You can see the portable shrine in the front of the procession.

My husband's attempts to find a comfortable position.

My husband’s attempts to find a comfortable position.

Food and sake!

Food and sake!

The musicians.  They were so cute!

The musicians. They were so cute!

I love the way they tie up the sleeves on the furisode so the kids can play during the breaks.

I love the way they tie up the sleeves on the furisode so the kids can play during the breaks.

Even the priests get to enjoy the sake and food.

Even the priests get to enjoy the sake and food.

That’s all for this week. Happy kitsuke!

Kimono Diary October 5th-11th, 2015

This week consisted of three things; video editing, teaching, and wasai.

Video editing and filming took up several hours of my weekend, unfortunately, some of those hours were wasted when I realized that the camera was set to the wrong frame rate.  I had to do it all over again, most of it in the last 12 hours.  And to top it off, Microsoft Word updated itself and is now crashing whenever I try to access this particular blog post that I wrote yesterday.  Time to do it again!  It hasn’t been a happy day.

For teaching, I had two lessons on Saturday, one private and one group lesson.  In the group lesson, I had fewer people than usual, only three students, but I found that it’s a good number.  If I have more than five students, I find that I can’t divide my attention evenly between my students, especially if I have one that is particularly struggling.

I had another wasai lesson this Saturday too (yes, my Saturdays are incredibly busy.)  We measured everything three times, found mistakes in our math, remeasured and remarked everything, and finally, after an hour, made the crucial cut to insert the gusset into my yukata.  I have a ton of homework to do including finishing installing the gusset and sewing the side seams.  It’s a lot of work, but my next wasai lesson won’t be for a month since from next week, I’ll be helping my teacher dress children for shichi-go-san!

Sorry for the lack of pictures this week, but there wasn’t really anything to photograph!  See you all next week!