[J'ai eu la chance de pouvoir porter un kimono...quelques secrets dévoilés de ce vêtement emblématique de la culture japonaise...]
Pictures © Hello Locals - Ten to Ten in Sapporo
Old fascination ...
Thanks to an offer of Hello Locals, I’ve had the opportunity to try wearing a kimono, basically for free.
Hello Locals is a project run by to Ten to Ten, a very nice recently opened hostel in Sapporo that organises a lot of activities aiming to let travellers enjoy local culture and be in contact with local people.
I am deeply in love with kimonos. I feel fascinated by their colours, materials and their connexion with the seasons and cycles of life. They are works of art made by talented artisans. Their variety is endless. When I was a child, one of my favourite books was about a young girl of noble family rebelling against her situation in medieval Japan. Many pages were describing her kimonos and how they were chosen according to the situations, seasons and even to match the poetry she was writing. I think that’s how I first went captivated by kimonos !
Five years ago, when I first came to Japan, my friend invited me to watch her getting dressed in kimono for her brother’s wedding. It was such a beautiful moment to sketch, and on this occasion I discovered the impressive number of pieces that are hidden under the cloth and obi to hold the kimono. I also got even more conscious of the fact that there are many different types of kimonos and ways of wearing them depending on the context, your age, your marital status…Colours, patterns, fabrics, sleeves's length or obi-knotting have meanings. Unmarried girls’ formal kimonos, for example, make them look like flowers trying to attract butterflies with their bright colours, rich patterns, complex obi knotting and long sleeves. A married woman’s formal kimono is much more discrete in its colours and shapes though extremely elegant, like the one my friend wore :
My friend getting dressed in kimono
Kimonos in Sapporo
When I arrived in Sapporo last winter, I surprisingly spotted randomly but regularly a few women wearing kimono on the street. I'd thought it would be really reserved to very special occasions nowadays, but there seems to be some rare women (rather older) who still wear it in less formal contexts, and I see more of them in Sapporo than in other cities I've been to.
I quickly found out the existence of secondhand kimono sales in the alleys of Pole Town and I can’t help admiring them whenever I happen to be passing by. I’ve already bought a kimono and obi as well as a haori (thigh-length jacket worn above kimono). I was also given a beautiful yukata as a wedding present, sadly I haven't been able to wear them so far.
Note that new kimonos are extremely expensive, but it is possible to find beautiful secondhand kimonos at very low prices throughout Japan, as well as obis (their value remains higher than kimonos even in flea markets, but some are affordable). I also like to buy leftovers of cloth, which can be recycled beautifully in handicraft activities.
So, I was over the moon when I was told I could try a kimono at Ten to Ten and I happily unveil this kimono experience here ! Unless you’ve been learning it, you can’t wear a kimono unaided, so I was assisted all the way long by a very kind kimono dresser, Koizumi-San. My "kimono-lady" was very gentle and put a lot of efforts in giving me explanations beyond our language barriers.
Step by step
The first step of wearing a kimono is...choosing it. Koizumi-San had brought 5 kimonos and many obis, so that choosing the one I would wear was not so easy. There was a lavender one with a lot of flower patterns, then a subtle pale green one and a pale rose one, more simple. I think pastel tones don’t fit me, but as a kimono colors’ effect can change a lot depending on how you assort it with an obi, I took my time to consider every of them. The one I was most attracted to was a deep blue silky one with delicate sprouts patterns in coral and red tones in its bottom. I also liked a white one with varied flower and vegetation patterns, in silk crepe which I find a little bit less enjoyable to wear. I had a big hesitation between those two. But I found the blue one’s tone too deep and strong for me, meanwhile the white one had colours and patterns that made me think of the current change of season between summer and autumn. The blue one also looked much more formal to me. So, as you already know, I finally opted for the white one and I was very happy with my choice ! It had chrysanthemum, momiji (maple leaves) and chinese bells that are connected with autumn, but also peonies, plum flowers, orchid and pine trees. A lot of patterns thus, but not a too lavish decoration either.
I then had to choose an obi, which is not as easy as it seems. I gave in to a very beautiful embroidered, not too shiny one. I think its colours may have been too close to the ones of the kimono itself (having more contrast may give a nice effect as well), but still, I think it was a good match. Koizumi-San picked up green obiage and obijime to complete it.
Then comes the hair (it’s easier to get your hair done before you get dressed). Koizumi-San fought bravely with my long fine western hair and fixed a big flower comb and a hair pin in my bun. Finally, I undressed and she began to dress me with the following garments (if my memory is right) :
- First a white collar, then a string to hold it and flatten the chest.
- Then, I put on the kimono. Several cloth strings are used to close it, they will later be hidden under the obi. Kimonos come in only two sizes, their length is adjusted to the wearer at waist level. If you want to wear a kimono or yukata, remember to wrap it with the left side over the right one (the other way is reserved to the deceased).
- Then comes a padding, worn under the chest to flatten the body, and a wide rigid band that will help securing the obi.
- Then obiage, a piece of cloth worn under the obi that will appear on top of it.
- And finally the obi itself, which I’m sure is the most difficult part if you want to dress by yourself. A padding is also put inside the obi at some time, it will help forming the obi knot. Once the obi knot is done, a small cardboard is inserted under it to make it more rigid. The last part is obijime, a thin, braided cord that helps holding the obi in place while being also decorative.
After that we went down with the photographer to take a few pictures in the bar and outside the hostel. Wearing a kimono feels quite hot and tight, but still it is more comfortable than what I expected. I was able to breathe and walk once I got used to make very small steps. It is not practical, but I felt better than in a tight western dress. We came across a few Japanese people, I felt a bit uneasy, but they smiled very kindly and made comments about my “kawainess”.
Before this experience, I was wondering what a Westerner wearing kimono looks like. What do Japanese people think when they see it ? Isn’t it weird ? Is it suitable with my western curves ? :-D Don’t you feel dressed up ? But I simply felt myself and happy to wear such a beautiful garment, to the beauty of which I am so sensitive. I felt good, just as I feel good when I wear henna even though it is not my culture originally. So, I feel much more confident to wear kimono another time without being embarrassed by this type of concern ! I am very grateful for this enjoyable experience and looking forward to wearing the kimono I've bought and never worn yet.
If you're looking for friends, activities and meeting Japanese in Sapporo, I recommend you to attend Hello Local varied cultural, cooking or sport activities. You can also simply have a drink at Ten to ten's bar. It is located a few minutes walk from Sapporo station.
Check their website or facebook page !
Where to buy vintage kimono in Sapporo ?
- There are a few kimono and obi stalls on the flea market taking place in Sapporo's Pole town alley, between the Odori metro station and the JR station. You can find kimonos starting from about 2000 yen and obi from 3000 yen.
- I haven't been there yet, but there's also a shop of the national secondhand kimono chain Tansu-ya (たんす屋) on the 4th floor of the Lafiler (ラフィラ) department store close to Susukino station.
If you're buying a kimono to wear it as a Western style dressing gown, you'll most probably have to shorten it. It is often adviced to have it done from the waist level and not from the lowest part ofr the cloth, which is usually rich in patterns that shouldn't been cut through.
Pour les francophones en quête de lecture
Un roman prenant sur le Japon médiéval avec une héroïne qui n'a pas froid aux yeux, plutôt pour enfants / ados (mais je crois qu'il est aussi publié dans une collection adulte) : Deux ombres sur le pont d'Evelyne Brisou-Pellen.