Walking around Osaka these days, I am hard-pressed to see anyone wearing a kimono. Men and women alike are dressed in Western attire.
Kyoto and holidays are the exception, as the amazing colorful patterns and array of fabrics of traditional kimonos fill the ancient streets and festive days then.
Kimono rental is a booming business for the equally booming tourist business in Japan. So there is a lot of hope for kimonos!
When I first arrived in Japan last year, I was leery of wearing anything Japanese for fear of cultural appropriation.
A Utah teen was recently criticized for wearing a Chinese cheongsam to her prom. (I recently found a gorgeous one in a thrift store at Kuromon Market in Osaka!) She said she wore it for its beauty and not out of disrespect. I’m with her – to protect, promote and preserve cultural icons that are disappearing because of globalization and capitalism’s push of the consumption of mono-culture.
A culture advisor gave me the green light and said it was OK, too, and that Japanese people would be happy to see me wear a kimono, she said, which is worn by Japanese people now usually only on festive occasions, as kimono wearing is in decline in Japan.
I lament that fact, as even men in traditional Japanese kimono seem so proud and unique in today’s globalized monotony of “fashion.”
I love to hear the wooden clunking of geta, wooden sandals, on the streets, and I love the Japanese tabi, two-towed socks. Comfy!
I was happy to read in the Japan Times recently how designers are hoping to revive the kimono and are eager for foreigners to help that goal. “I hope to meet more people who want to understand Japanese culture,” said Kahori Ochi in the article. That’s me!
I have had two Kitsuke classes, or the art of kimono dressing at the Community House Information Center in Kobe (CHIC) with Yumi Ayama. She is passionate about the kimono and Japanese culture, and it has been a joy to learn from her over the months.
My first class back in September was the basics. It was still warm and summer, so we learned about the informal yukata, which is worn June through September. It’s made of a lightweight fabric, and an even lighter one is worn for the intense heat and humidity of July.
Yukatas are for casual wear and are easy to wear around the house and perfect for a Westerner like me still shy to wear them out and about. Even my husband bought one!
Kimono means “a thing to wear.” This past week’s session I learned that the kimono has changed throughout time and a great history about it is here. Today traditional kimono fabrics are still made, including hand-painted Yuzen dyeing techniques in Kyoto, of which I went on an amazing tour with CHIC in October. Kimonos are for more formal wear and in the colder months of fall and winter.
Everything about a kimono or yukata has meaning, even unspoken.
Plain patterns and colors are for casual wear. Fancier ones are to wear once for a wedding, or others for dinner or going to out a movie. To show a collar means you are from Osaka. To not show one means you are from Tokyo.
A woman always holds her kimono with her left hand, as with a right hand signifies she is a prostitute and “open” to men. (Not that there is anything wrong with that IMHO (read history about sacred sex, women, The Goddess and prostitution, especially early Greek and Eastern European culture, Japanese and MORE!!!!! Sex is part of nature! Those prurient mythologies screwed it up for everybody else!!! ESPECIALLY WOMEN! )
In fact, Ayama showed me pictures of fabulous traditional kimonos from the Heian period that women wore in the Aoi Matsuri Festival in Kyoto. One of the oldest festivals in Japan, it takes place annually May 15. The purpose of the procession, she told me, is to bring the consort to the male deity of the Shimogamo shrine and appease the god to avoid natural disasters . She was a former shaman priestess who had lost her ability to commune with the spirits, so she became a prostitute for the god. Amazing!
The only time a woman would hold a kimono with her right hand is on her wedding day, Ayama said. A long-sleeved kimono with a connected picture is worn by an unmarried woman. And the pattern or flower determines which kimono to wear with which season, such as cherry blossoms on branches and light colors in the spring and maple leaves and dark colors in the fall. So much meaning rather than buying something off the corporate store rack made by an Asian slave paid pennies! Liberate the People and wear a kimono!
No doubt, kimono dressing is a complex ritual in which to dress! For a Westerner it can be mind-boggling and intimidating, and this blog post cannot due justice to this high art…. but after my second session recently, I became more intrigued and comfortable with the process.
I found meaning in the formal routine of how to place your hand to hold the fabric, which way to fold the kimono – your left side is shown to the viewer’s right, an is a sign of respect. To fold it the other way is a sign of death.
Kimono and other accessories, such as belts, a sash, waistband and obi, are prepared and laid out on a tatami mat before dressing. Undergarments, nagajuban are first worn. Then comes a white, under yukata and then the kimono, gripped and put on in specific ways and rules. Then comes the obi.
How to wrap an obi! Well…. I am still learning! You turn clockwise and wrap yourself…. something like that!
But the patterns show lovely meaning, from bamboo, signifying strength and everlasting life because of its green, to butterflies, its circle-eight symbolism for eternity. Where the hell do you find that in a Gucci bag?!?!?!
Or some for weddings with turtles and cranes – creatures who mate for life. I’m with them!
One lovely pattern is the seikaiha. It’s a symbol of ocean waves and eternity. The wave comes and it goes. The wave goes out, but it always comes back.
A nice thought to live by. A nice metaphor for the kimono! It always comes back!
After taking off my kimono and returning to my Western wear, I felt naked!
Indeed I felt less secure. I remember writing a paper on the history of the corset in a fashion history class I took for a theatre degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A corset helped women feel held and secure, in those days gone by. (And of course required surgery to remove ribs. Much like modern high heels women wear, which reverse the natural alignment of ankles and knees, and keep a woman out of contact with the Earth, her power and that powerful pada bandha in her feet!)
Indeed, however, instead I felt the instinctual feeling of security with the kimono, its ritual, wrapping and obi! Even though a kimono can limit your walk, much like the early 20th century Hobble skirt. But sometimes limits can be just discipline in disguise. You decide!
In these times of uncertainty, maybe the kimono is just what the the Earth (and women) has ordered! Or something like it. Everything comes and goes. But it always comes back!
I have so much to learn. But I am ready! Join me and try a kimono today! Or at least admire its tradition and beauty! The tradition and beauty that is YOU!
TAT TVAM ASI!