Monday, May 17, 2010

Playing dress-up with kimono and yukata

Me, wearing a traditional kimono.

When my Japanese teacher, Yoshiko, asked me recently if I'd be interested in learning how to wear a kimono and yukata (summer kimono), I figured this was one opportunity I shouldn't pass up. Joe bought me a yukata a couple years ago as an anniversary gift, but I'd never actually worn it, in part because I didn't know how to put it on myself and in part because I wasn't sure I could clean it properly afterward. But it would be a shame to leave Japan without wearing the yukata, or even understanding how to wear it for that matter, so on a couple weekends this spring I went with Yoshiko to learn all about it. I assumed that all Japanese people know how to put on kimono and yukata, but it turns out this assumption was wrong — Yoshiko was learning for the first time, too. Apparently it is not a skill all children learn, but rather something passed down from generation to generation.

On the first Saturday afternoon, Yoshiko, Joe and I went to a community center in her neighborhood where there were a number of other Japanese ladies and a French woman being dressed up in kimono by some older Japanese women.

Me with my Japanese teacher, Yoshiko

The process of putting this thing on was MUCH more complicated than I ever realized. It took two ladies working together around half an hour to put this thing on me. Imagine my surprise when they told me that they had been taking lessons for ONE YEAR to learn how to properly dress people in kimono. In Japan there are in fact licensed professional kimono dressers. The event we were attending was actually the culmination of their course — after taking lessons for a year, they were finally getting some real-life practice dressing real people in kimono rather than dummies. Needless to say, I was not able to learn in one hour how to properly dress myself in a kimono, but it was still a very enlightening experience.

There are at least 12 parts to the kimono that must be assembled in very specific ways. (There are many layers and strings and other pieces underneath it that you can't even see.) How it's worn also depends on your marital status. The ladies hadn't realized I was married and dressed me with long sleeves that draped almost to the floor, which is usually done to signify a woman is single. I actually didn't even realize this until I saw the pictures later and realized my kimono looked different from the other ladies'.


The kimono doesn't look so uncomfortable to wear, but it is. There are a number of pieces underneath tied very tightly to keep everything held together just so. The pink part across the middle (the obi) was very stiff and tight, as well. It was hard to breathe in all the way. Kind of reminded me of wearing my wedding dress, actually...

Joe and me

The yukata is more comfortable and a bit less complex. The second Saturday I spent with Yoshiko, we went to the house of one of the women who dressed me in the kimono and learned how to put on yukata. I think all told learning and practicing the steps took around two hours.

Yukata time! I'm in the center, Yoshiko is at left, the teacher at right.

Probably the most difficult part of putting on the yukata is properly assembling the obi, which is the stiff pink fabric in the middle.


I probably can't remember all the steps exactly off the top of my head, but at least now that I've practiced it I should be able to get it right with a little refresher from some YouTube videos. I'm hoping to wear my yukata to Hiroshima's Yukata Festival in June, so my skills will be put to the test then.

No comments: