The first diploma for kimono-dressing in New York

Six months have passed since I started a kimono-wearing class in NYC. This time, I could give my student the second-class instructor diploma for kimono-dressing, authorized by the national Japanese clothing consultant association (NJCCA). It was the first time that the association offered a diploma to students belonging international classes other than Japanese.

This student has lived in NYC because of her husband’s business, but she will go back to Japan on March. She told me that she had never known kimono-wearing and kimono-dressing could be so much fun. And she plans to work on kimono-related business after she returns to Japan.
I moved to NYC with my husband seven months ago, because of his work. Then, I opened a kimono-wearing class in my unknown place, New York. My kimono-wearing class has been truly built up with all the students, coming to my class. Therefore, I am more pleased with her words than to give her a diploma.

In addition to having kimono-wearing classes, I also provide kimono-dressing service, helping customers get dressed in kimonos. Everyone I dressed has been highly delighted and thanked me. But I have not been satisfied with my techniques on kimono dressing yet. On my way home after the kimono-dressing service, I always think over what I did and reconsider how to dress my customers more beautifully. At that time, I met with words of Prof. Masuko Chiba, who was the most famous for Japanese bridal kimono dressing.

I continue to admire how beautiful wedding attire is. For more than 40 years, I have been dressed many brides with my hands in a congratulatory and happy manner. I can remember all the scenes with deep emotions. Always I have been supported by profound attachment to kimonos and forward-looking passion to master techniques for kimono dressing.

Whenever I dress customers with kimonos, I desire that I could educe beauty of kimono as well as beauty which dressed persons create, as is more and more attractive to one another. I would like to send Prof. Chiba’s words to my student. Actually, I am convinced that kimono dressing is pursuit of beauty in close coordination with kimonos and dressed persons. I am happy that I can help her to step on such an attractive world as kimono dressing. And I earnestly hope that she makes progress and succeeds using acquired techniques.

This is a lovely letter from this student.
I appreciate her with my whole heart.


Meeting with Ryukyu Bingata, made by Eijyun Shiroma

Ryukyu bingata is dying of Okinawa, consisting of hundreds of islands in the southwestern Japan. It is characterized by generous-hearted color, contrasting favorably with sunshine. About four hundred years ago, Okinawa, originally called Ryukyu, was an individual kingdom. Bingatas were consolidated at that time, and then have developed as folkways of the royal palace. Originally, painters at the palace have drawn beauties of nature in Ryukyu on the paper. Subsequently, the king ordered citizens to dye kimono fabrics with various kinds of beautiful designs.

The kimono presented on the photo is my favorite bingata homongi made by Eijyun Shiroma. Once I saw the pattern on the bolt of this bingata in front of the draper’s shop, I was deeply impressed by its beauty. Then, I began examining bingatas. Shortly afterwards, I have known that Shiroma family was one of representative three organizers of ryukyu bingatas and Eiki Shiroma, the father of Eijyun Shiroma, revived it at Okinawa in ruins after the WWII.
The more I saw of this bingata, the wistful I became. I found myself visiting the draper’s shop just for seeing, not for buying, for more than three months. Finally, when my departure to NY was forthcoming, the draper said to me, “If you love this bingata so much, I will sell it at a great sacrifice.” Therefore, I could buy it at a reasonable price.

At the end of WWII, Okinawa suffered catastrophic damage. Eiki Shiroma has lost all of things, including loved families, all the fabrics dyed by him, and all the necessities for bingata making. After the war, he exchanged his rationed food to old fabrics, because it was very difficult to get materials and old fabrics of bingatas. Based on the old fabrics, he imagined combination of colors. In addition, he collected various kinds of papers, even bags of flour, for paper stencils and drew designs. Step by step, he prepared to make his bingatas. Actually, it was a re-start from zero.

Eiki Shiroma wrote precisely how to make bingatas without regret in one of the famous kimono books, “Japanese Cloths” published by Tairyu-sha. In this book, the craftsman, working for Eiki Shiroma, talked with feeling that ryukyu bingatas should not become prosperous, if Eiki were secretive and egoistic in terms of technology. Furthermore, his following talk really touched me:
Ryukyu Bingatas are not proprietary things of our family. They are one of the traditional cultures for all Okinawa people, developed by many ancestors. True culture should not definitively grow on a basis of secrecy. Under a situation after defeat in war (WWII), what I aspire and what I must do is not reproduction of old bingatas, but rebirth of new bingatas. It is actually resurrection for bingata. For the resurrection, we must build firm foundation, where its traditional techniques are correctly and permanently handed down from person to person. To that end, the more bingata artists, the better. Of course, owing to the increase in bingata makers, some of the people might produce inferior goods, but extraordinary bingata artists should appear. I believe that these extraordinary bingata artists should develop ryukyu bingatas better, and in addition, bloom more attractive Okinawa culture.”

Thanks to overwhelming passion of Eiki Shiroma to resurrect bingatas, now I can meet a wonderful bingata kimono like this.


Men’s Kimono Class in NY

In New York, I am running a kimono business, including kimono-wearing class, kimono dressing service on site, and kimono coordinate service. Last months, I started a men’s kimono class to get more New Yorker enjoying kimono. Indeed I did not anticipate that I can get applicants immediately, but less than a month later, a nice American gentleman has come to our classroom for private lessons every Sunday. When I coached him how to wear a yukata and to tie a heko-obi, which is a soft obi, in a bow, he easily acquired the technique and wore a yukata by himself, whereas my husband, taking a class together, was slow in learning and could not wear a yukata by himself at all.

Then he has been able to wear a naga-gi, one of men’s kimonos, by himself. Subsequently, he acquired various kinds of obi tying, kai-no-kuchi (shell’s mouth), kata-basami (single tug), ronin-musubi (masterless samurai tying), kanda-musubi (kanda tying for Japanese festival), and so on. Now he can wear a hakama on his kaku-obi tying by means of ichi-monji, which means one by the Japanese-Chinese character, and finally he can dress himself in a mon-tsuki hakama, which is the most formal men’s kimono in Japan.

We had the temporarily final class last Sunday. He gave me a paper kimono-wearing doll making kit by origami, which is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding. Opening its box, I found many colorful Japanese papers, called chiyogami, and filled my heart with feelings of nostalgia. Nowadays I have no experiences to play origami, but I ordinarily had met a wide variety of chiyogami at one of famous chiyogami shops, Ise-tatsu, in Yanaka, Tokyo, in my neighborhood. Less than a year later I moved to New York City, once I saw colorful chiyogami papers, I should recall merriment at Ise-tatsu and hustle and bustle of Yanaka as the downtown of Tokyo. Actually, my heat is filled with feelings of nostalgia.

At the end of our lesson, in appreciation for this present, I gave him a cup of Japanese tea in manner of the tea ceremony. I served him with some little Japanese sweets, Futatsu-tachibana (two mandarin orange flowers), which we can get at the Japanese sweets shop, Kyo-Tachibana, in Kitayama, Kyoto. He should be pleased to have a relaxed time. In this way, our lesson finished, but he told me that he would come to review kimono wearing in the near future.

His name is Timothy, who loves Japanese sake, has sake Class in NY, and makes an effort to build bridges between Japanese and American sake cultures. His web site is UrbanSake.com.
When I asked him if I would post my blog entry about our kimono class, he gave permission with pleasure and told me that he was looking forward to seeing my blog.
I hope that we both could build bridges between Japanese and American cultures.


Hatsugama Tea Ceremony in NY

I have learned tea ceremony in Japan and continue to learn it in New York. Recently, we had the Hatsugama tea ceremony, the first and most festive presentation of tea in the New Year, in our tea class. I visited the tea house wearing my iromuji, kimono dyed up in one color, with shades between pink and wisteria violet. Why should we wear iromujis at the tea ceremony? I can find interesting descriptions about iromujis as follows:
“In the end of Edo period (1603-1867), a girl working at a shouya, a village head, usually wore a crested iromuji, when she formally squired a master of the shouya. Subsequently, during the Taisho period (1912-1926), a crested iromuji was recognized as a formal dress. After WWII, along with popularization of democratic educational system, mothers gradually attended enrollment and graduation ceremonies with their iromujis.”
Iromujis as semi-formal dresses seem to be similar to black or navy blue suits, with which girls go in for the interviews during their recruiting times.

In New York, attendants at the Hatsugama tea ceremony wore various kinds of kimonos, from a formal kuro-tomesode with five crests, the most formal kimono for a married woman, to a bingata-style komon, a type of stencil dyed kimono originating from Okinawa. As mentioned before, I visited the tea house with my iromuji with a shaped resist dyeing crest according to usual Japanese manners, but I could enjoy more flexible style in NY. Next time I might wear a brilliant kimono to attend the Hatsugama tea ceremony.

But I cannot forget that this iromuji was the first I bought by myself at the draper’s shop. I recall that I selected the color of its dyeing, asked the draper to leave undyed on my crest, and asked her to measure my size for tailoring. I vividly remember my mind of strain in front of the draper’s shop. Taking a step to the draper’s shop, I should be mentally prepared for attending tea ceremonies. Once I wear this iromuji, I always feel self-renewal. I like this dignified feeling very much. Ultimately, I would wear this iromuji to attend the Hatsugama tea ceremony next year.


Yuki Tsumugi in cold winter

I often wear my favorite kimono, Yuki Tsumugi, in cold winter. Yuki Tsumugi is warm to wear because it has rich air-containing spaces in the thread. Yuki Tsumugi fits my body. The more often I wear it, the better its texture is. It’s like japan wares; the more often we use them, the better they are.

Processing Cocoon to floss silk, spinning threads from floss silk at finger tips, and weaving pongee fabrics: All the processes are manual in Yuki area, Japan. These pongee fabrics are not only rustic and warm, but also hold gorgeous from silk inside. Actually, at my first sight, Yuki Tsumugi pongee seemed far from the silk-made dress.
I heard that Yuki Tsumugi appeared in Manyo-Shu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled about 750 A.D. In addition, surprisingly, on the chronological table of the book “National living treasure series Vol.43: Yuki Tsumugi”, the history of Yuki Tsumugi started in 656 B.C. Incredible history!

When we traveled to Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan, I dropped in at Yuki City, the origin of Yuki Tsumugi, and visited one of the museum about Yuki Tsumugi, Tsumugi no Yakata of Okujyun, where we can experienced dyeing and weaving fabrics. Immediately after we entered the museum room, it had something like a bad odor. Dye compounds, which were extracted from plant with plenty of tannin, caused that odor. Smell of plant gradually changed to good aroma, after soaking our cloths in dye compounds over again and again. It smelled like rainforest after squall. Indeed it’s natural plant-living aroma!

I dyed my T-shirt with a certain plant, Yasha-Bushi. My T-shirt gradually became black-ash colored, so a teacher of our dyeing said that it became nicely Yasha-colored. I cannot find Yasha color as the name of color by some book, but I think that Yasha is good on the ear. If we add alkaline water to Yasha-Bushi, it should become purple with a tinge of yellow. If we don’t add alkaline water, it should become shades between black and gray. These processes seem like chemical experiments. In addition, I heard that formerly, fabric-dyeing craftsmen have used lime instead of alkaline water. I am surprised that old Japanese people found variety of plant dyeing without chemical formula.

I think that culture develops with nature and climate, as well as kimonos in Japan. In addition, I realize that tradition is not only maintained, but also can develop in adapting to nature and climate. Tsumugi indeed adapts to nature, climate, and human life. Furthermore, it complements a person who wears Tsumugi to nature and climate.
In New York it's really cold in winter, so inexplicably, I would like to be wrapped in Tsumugi, rather than wear piece-dyed kimonos. Even the verbal word “Tsumugu”, which means to spin, sounds like warm.


Ise Katagami: Ise paper stencils

Ise paper stencils were sent from Japan to my home in NY. They have traditionally been used in the dyeing of kimono cloths with family crests and patterns including those for yuzen, yukata, and the very fine overall patterns known as komon.
These paper stencils were found at the old dyeing store in Muromachi, Kyoto. On the paper stencil of chrysanthemum arabesque design as shown at the right photo, we can see the signature of Yamanaka Sonzaburou, written with a brush and sumi ink, who I heard was a stencil maker in Ise Shirako. Surprisingly, this was made about 125 years ago.
On the other splashed-pattern paper stencil as shown at the left photo, there are no signatures, so I cannot identify how old it is. But when it is held up to the light, the fine motifs beautifully twinkle. It looks like sky filled with stars.

The chrysanthemum arabesque design has middle-sized pattern, which is called chu-gata for yukatas or futon covers. But Ise paper stencils are most popular used in the dyeing of Edo komon kimonos. Ko-mon means small pattern, while I heard that big pattern existed, which were called dai-mon. In the middle of Edo Period (1603-1897) in Japan, mon developed from daimon on the kami-shimo, one of samurai’s formal wears, gradually became finer as samurais’ fashion, and finally grew to komon. Merchants in Edo not only imitated samurais’ fashion and made their kimonos dyed with komon patterns, but also made many livingwares, for example, towels, futon covers, and so on, dyed with komon patterns by craftsmen. Everything has been embellished with komon, expanding beyond kimono patterns.

Geishas sometimes wore conservative Edo komon cloths with their red underwears which were seen during their walk. It seemed to be dressed fashionably with their sexually attractive. Therefore, Edo komon kimonos look wonderful only with a certain combinations, but look intrusive with many kinds of colorful combinations. I think that we should definitively develop sense of styles, if we wear Edo komon kimonos.
That is actually Japanese aesthetic feeling, I suppose.

Nakaya Hisako philosophically wrote about Edo komon kimonos in the book “Japanese Cloths (Tairyu-sha)” that taking advantage of us made taking advantage of others, and taking advantage of all things made us more wonderful and beautiful.

Beyond these paper stencils, I can imagine that in old Japan, women wearing Edo komon kimonos without any hesitation performed daily activities, paying attention to their combinations. So, I am fascinated with Edo komon kimonos, and in addition, paper stencils, which create various kinds of them.


Kimono world from foreigners' view

I am making kimono wearing class in New York. One of my students, a Canadian woman living in New York, told me that she is very interested in the world of geisha and maiko, who is half-baked geisha.
She has studied abroad in Japan, and when she went to Gion, Kyoto and saw a maiko, she was touched by beauty of the maiko.

In Tokyo, where I was born, maiko is called han-gyoku. Han-gyokus have slightly different styles of kimono wearing and hair setting from maikos, but beauty of han-gyokus, which I actually saw and experienced in Mukou-jima, Tokyo, was deeply kept in my heart.

There is an inquiry form in my homepage about kimono-wearing class. In addition to business inquiries from West Coast to East Coast of USA, I have received several pure-minded writings that they were interested in geishas. While I actually joined some han-gyokus or geishas in Mukou-jima at a young age, it is difficult to explain them to foreigners in English. So, I bought this book, “A Geisha's Journey: My Life As a Kyoto Apprentice.
When I immediately show this book to my Canadian student, she laughed and told me to have it. Through this book, foreigners should enjoy such a beautiful world of maiko and geisha as one of Japanese traditional cultures.

I would like to introduce one more kimono book, “Kimono: Fashioning Culture” written by Liza Dalby, which genuinely describes culture and history of kimonos in English. Different from gorgeous geisha world, this book focuses on various kinds of kimonos from twelve-layered ceremonial kimonos to modern casual kimonos. My Canadian student also has this book!
I am wondering both books are required readings for foreign people who are interested in kimonos. And through these books I can also glimpse kimono world from foreigners’ view.


Taisho Art

This is a handwritten Yuzen-dying kimono, made in Taisho period (1912-1925). When I wear it, I take a deep breath of admiration for their beauty. Some people describe Yuzen kimonos in Taisho period as Taisho Art. I think that they are not much greater than museum displays, but they look best on us. I am especially impressed flowers scattered from shoulders to back on this kimono.

Nowadays, many of Yuzen kimonos are heard to be printed out by inkjet printers in China. Indeed these Yusen kimonos in general look beautiful for their detailed print. Now we can get beautiful Yuzen kimono at reasonable prices, I may not deny these mechanized techniques.
But I still feel somewhat human warmth to handwritten Yuzen-dying kimonos. On my Yuzen kimono, edges of dying flowers are embroidered by gold thread. These pinpoint precisions are beyond artistic rather than emotional, so we can sympathize dying-professionals’ worldview.

Yuzen-dying technique was originally established by one painter, Miyazaki Yuzensai, in Genroku period (1688-1703). After that, expression for motifs has been dramatically developed without any inhibition and acquired with picturesque beauty.
When I see and wear this kimono, I realize that it is a “picture” kimono.