One of the highlights of staying at the Family Inn Saiko was the opportunity to have a private kimono experience with Obasan (“grandma”).
I was surprised to see a little sign on the breakfast table at the Family Inn Saiko, saying that guests of the ryokan were invited to have a complimentary kimono experience with the grandma of the guesthouse.
When I booked an appointment with Obasan, I was told that she normally only dresses grownups, so it came as a real surprise to me when she brought out two little kimono for the kids too! She must have gone out to purchase them specially for us, thinking that the kids would love to try on the traditional Japanese formalwear too. You can see on J and Little E’s faces how they felt about it. What a sweet and thoughtful lady she is!
We were advised that the full experience would take up to an hour per person (which is why Obasan would only take one or two booking appointments in the morning), so I was fully aware that wearing a kimono is a complicated business. It’s possible to put on a kimono by oneself, but even the modern Japanese woman may lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided, so the assistance of a licensed professional kimono dresser is usually required.
I found out later that Obasan is a traditional Japanese folk dancer, and indeed she still travels and dances every year with her dance group at the big Awa Dance Festival held in August. She wants her guests to have an appreciation of Japanese traditions and loves to share her experiences.
Before we started, Obasan brought out a variety of kimono and obi belts for me to choose from. It was obvious that she had laid out kimono that was appropriate for the season – gorgeous prints of maple leaves in intense red and yellows, as well as deep blue kimono with a subtle orange print (for the mature lady!).
I decided to go for a plum coloured kimono with a lovely pattern of falling leaves and asters. Obasan decided to match this with a glorious red obi with a phoenix design woven into it.
First, I put on the juban, a pale cotton top and skirt, which acts as a slip. Obasan adjusted the white collar of the top, and tied it into position with a string. Then, I put on the white cotton tabi socks. I wondered why it was necessary to put on the tabi right at the start – but many layers later, I realised that it was quite difficult to bend at the waist, so putting on socks would be quite difficult.
Obasan wrapped the kimono around me, making sure the back was centred and that the white juban collar showed evenly under the kimono collar. She tied the kimono in place using another length of string, and began to adjust the length of the fabric so that it ended at my ankle.
At this stage, I was starting to feel bad that her little gnarled hands were working hard to hold the extra fabric in position as she tied on the bright pink koshihimo belt, a length of pink cotton ribbon, underneath the fold of cloth. I tried to hold the kimono in place for her but she tapped my hand gently away, firmly saying ‘NONONONONONONONO’, all the while tugging and smoothing out the kimono fabric over the koshihimo belt.
Once this was done, she took the pink patterned datejime sash and wrapped it around my waist, over the koshihimo belt, tying it in the front and securing it with another length of pink cotton ribbon.
Now it was time to put on the obi belt. Obasan wrapped the obi around the butterfly-patterned obi-ita, which is a thin stiff board which helps to give the obi a smooth appearance when wrapped around the waist. Obasan fastened the obi-ita in position using a red elastic belt with clasps at both ends, then she tied the obi at the back in a square ‘drum’ knot.
In order to pad out the obi at the back, Obasan tied a dragonfly-patterned obi-makura cushion under the wide top fold of the obi. She then covered the white strings of the obi-makura with a pink silk obi-age sash, tucking in most of the obi-age into the obi (because I’m a married lady), but leaving a little of it peeking out the top (because I’m sexy and I know it). This is the traditional Japanese equivalent of showing a bit of cleavage!
Finally, she passed the silk braided obi-jime cord through the obi, tying it in a reef knot in the front and tucking the ends in at the sides.
Then we were all done!
I really liked Little E’s brightly coloured kimono and obi! The furi (sleeves) on her furisode (‘swinging sleeves’) kimono were much longer in comparison to mine, with brilliant floral prints.
She looked really cute in it and Obasan was so delighted with her when she put it on, that she asked her to walk up and down the street and pose for pictures!
As you can see, Little E was enjoying all the attention!
J had his kimono put on last – and I was very proud of him for being so patient whilst all the ladies were getting dressed. His kimono was a semi-formal yukata with manly blue stripes and stylised japanese characters printed on the collar and on the back.
The collar of the men’s kimono is worn slightly looser in the front which, I explained to J, was to show off all his muscles!
It was such fun to dress up in traditional Japanese garments. I thought that it would feel tight and uncomfortable to be wearing so many layers, but I actually found it surprisingly pleasant. I felt snug and secure, and not the least bit constricted.
J and Little E had so much fun, they were reluctant to change out into their regular clothes!
P.S. By the way, check out yesterday’s video about the Thoughtfulness of Kimonos at my other blog, Owls Well!