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!

Matsu (松) Pine

002 (3) 009 (6)Name:  Matsu (松) Pine

Seasonal Association: Winter

When To Wear It: all year

Auspicious: yes

 

A Note on Seasonality: Some sources of classical poetry place matsu in the category of a winter motif.  I tend to agree with this assessment as pine has a very strong association in my mind with O-shogatsu (New Years) as well as it’s inclusion in the trio of shochikubai (the three friends of winter).  Others do not agree with this.  However one fact that is indisputable is that matsu is an auspicious motif and therefore can be worn all year round.

History

There are two main kinds of pine trees that grow in japan. Kuromatsu ( 黒松 black pine) grows in coastal areas and akamatsu ( 赤松 red pine) grows on mountains and in fields.

Their long life (sometimes hundreds of years) hardiness, and the fact that they are green all year round make them an auspicious symbol of longevity.

Pine is used in a wide variety of items in Japan. Lumber, windbreaks, fuel, torches, and bonsai all use pine wood. The soot from burning pinewood is used to create ink for calligraphy. In addition, matsutake mushrooms can only be found growing around the base of akamatsu.

Spiritually, pine is heavily linked with the gods of the Japanese pantheon. Noh plays usually feature at least one supernatural character, and the background for all noh stages is a painting of a single pine tree.

During O-shogatsu (お正月Japanese New Year) homes are decorated with a pair of kadomatsu (門松gate pines). These decorations are said to provide homes for the gods during their visit to Earth.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

For more information on pine, Begin Japanology has created an excellent video on the subject.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai
松竹梅

The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.

Identification

Here are the two most common ways of depicting matsu.

Kasamatsu (笠松) Hat of Pine

In this motif, the pine foliage forms a hat while the branches form the ties of the hat, Although personally, I think it looks more like a mushroom than a hat.

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Matsuba chirashi (松葉散らし) Scattered Pine Needles

This motif resembles scattered pine needles on the ground. The needles are always depicted in pairs that are attached at the base of the needles.

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Take (竹) Bamboo

052Name: Take (竹) Bamboo

Seasonal Association: Trans-seasonal

When To Wear It: All year

Auspicious: yes

A Note on Seasonality: Different parts of bamboo are associated with different seasons in Japan.  For example, the straight stalks of bamboo have a close connection with winter due to their inclusion in O-shogatsu (New Years) decorations and shochikubai (The Three Friends of Winter).  However, bamboo also plays an important part in the celebration of Tanabata, which takes place in the summer.

History

Take is one of the most important plants in Japan.

It has taken on many meanings and associations over its long history in Japan. According to Haruo Shirane in his book Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, bamboo has come to represent long life, prosperity, immortality, fidelity, and chastity. It is also a member of shochikubai (see below) which is an extremely auspicious combination of bamboo, pine, and plum blossom.

Its importance is shown very well in this video from Begin Japanology.

Bamboo is an integral part of Japanese culture and is used in thousands of products. Here’s a short list illustrating the importance of bamboo in Japan.

Practical applications: baskets, building construction, scaffolding, fencing, inuyarai (犬矢来traditional Kyoto fencing) implements for tea ceremony, traditional umbrellas, toys, cups, ikenbana baskets, fans, flutes, and brooms are examples.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Decorative applications: figurines, kadomatsu (門松decorations for the Japanese New Year, O-shogatsu) shishi-odoshi (ししおどし traditional stalks of bamboo that fill up with water, then pour it out while making a noise. They were traditionally used to scare off animals, but are now used only decoratively in gardens.)

Annual Celebrations:

Tanabata ( 七夕): On July 7th, people will tie handmade paper ornaments to a branch of bamboo to celebrate the legend of two lovers that can only cross the milky way and meet one day a year. For more information on Tanabata check here.  http://www.jref.com/culture-society/tanabata/

O-shogatsu(お正月): During O-shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, homes and businesses are decorated with kadomatsu. Pairs of kadomatsu (門松) are placed on either side of the door to welcome and be a temporary home to the visiting gods. Kadomatsu are decorated differently depending on region, but all of them have three pieces of upright bamboo as the centerpiece.

bamboo figurines

bamboo figurines

Legends:

The oldest Japanese story to be found so far is the story of the bamboo cutter, also called Kaguya Hime or Taketori Monogatari. In this story, a bamboo cutter finds a stalk of bamboo that is glowing. When he cuts it open, he discovers a baby girl. When this baby girl grows up, she eventually returns to her home on the moon. It’s a very popular story that all Japanese children know.

Food: Takenoko (竹の子bamboo shoots) are served fresh from March to May and preserved year round (especially in ramen). In addition, the sheaths around the base of mature bamboo can be used as a food wrapper.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai
松竹梅

The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.

 

Identification

Bamboo is depicted on kimono in two distinct ways.

Take (竹) bamboo
A long, straight stalk of bamboo with visible joints (fushi) at regular intervals.  Take can be depicted with or without leaves.

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Bamboo in a utilitarian setting.

Bamboo in a utilitarian setting.

Sasanoha (笹の葉) bamboo leaves
A clump of three, four, or five thin pointed leaves. The points of the leaves are always oriented downwards. It is very common for sasanoha to appear without take.

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