Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kimono Club (Janae)

Women dressed in kimono for a festival
I got my first kimono on a family splurge trip to Tokyo in high school.  I remember being fascinated by its silky texture and woven design that had seemed simple at first, but was actually so intricate once I looked more closely.  Once I got back to the U.S., though, I have to admit that it spent quite a while almost untouched, sealed in a plastic bag.   It wasn’t until college that I decided to tackle learning how to wear it. 

I quickly found out just how complicated the process was, and about all of the hidden-but-necessary little accessories I needed to find.  I’d only half way learned how to wear it by the time I started my study abroad program in Japan, so I was pretty excited to hear that the university had a kimono-wearing club.  I’ve been going to this club, and so far it’s been fairly relaxed and accepting.  The teachers can only speak Japanese, which can be a little intimidating.  By the second meeting my friend and I were the only foreigners left.  I haven’t gotten much chance to communicate with my Japanese club mates, but they’ve helped me out when they could.  The club president was kind enough to translate to me how the club fees worked.

Each meeting we first sit down in the proper way and bow to the teachers, and then everyone learns how to put on kimono with the help of two teachers, who luckily both have the patience of saints.  Once the meetings end, we bow again to the teachers.  Even if the teacher-student relationship seems pretty lax most of the time, showing respect at the beginning and end of each session is a must. 

One thing I’ve noticed as the teachers try to show me how to wear kimono is how regimented the club likes the whole process to be.  They have rules for every little step.  During the first meeting, I think my friend and I must have taken ten or fifteen minutes trying to learn from our teacher how to properly put our arms into our kimono.  

Wearing a kimono on the first day
We even fold the koshihimo (ties) that hold up the kimono in a very specific pattern.  This is kind of surprising to me, since the koshihimo are tucked away out of sight once everything is in place.  No one would be able to tell if they were wrinkled, so I thought we would just loosely wrap them up any-which-way once we were done with them, like I’d one with mine at home.  Instead we must carefully fold them into little pentagon shapes, which, while they look pretty cool, are a bit time consuming to make. 

I’m sure there are methods to most of this madness that are hard for me to see right now, but it is a little frustrating because at the beginning of meetings part of me always just wants to (gently) throw the kimono over my shoulders and get on with learning the rest of the process.  Everyone in the club has been very welcoming to me, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, so I’ve been trying (and maybe succeeding?) to go with the flow as much as possible.  


Crystaline Hoover said...

Is the club just practicing how to do it? What happens when you have mastered the art? Surely the students who have been in the club for awhile must have figured it out?

One thing that kind of surprised me coming to Japan is seeing people dress up in traditional clothing to visit Kyoto. It seems like such a tourist-y thing to do -- but then, maybe lots of them people doing it are tourists from other parts of Japan. Or maybe they just feel it's a way of connecting to their past.

glassgourd said...

Yeah, this club is just for learning how to wear it, but there's also a traditional dance club that wears yukata kimonos. I'm not sure what happens when you master it, but there's an adjoining room for advanced students to learn how to put on more complex kimono.

I think the whole dress-up-in-kimono thing in Kyoto is a pretty cool way to connect to the past too. The market for traditional kimono (especially maiko or geisha style kimono) has shrunk so much that it’s nice something like that can give some income to kimono and obi makers (and also the people who know how to actually dress someone up) and keep the tradition alive.

Christopher Aaron Koerner said...

So, now that the semester is almost over how has kimono club progressed?

I too think that it is great that there are places that rent out kimono and yukata for people to wear, but I do not think that I have ever seen a an actual store in Japan. I got my yukata at a booth at a festival, and that is the closest I have gotten to a place that offers people the opportunity to wear traditional clothes.