Culture, Coming of Age and the Kimono

My previous posts are taking the piss a tad, are borderline rants and reek of sarcasm and I don’t see any reason that this will end up any different as it progresses but I hope you know I love Japan! I learn new things everyday, some fascinating and some shocking. And while no one or nowhere  is perfect I do love and appreciate the people, the culture and the country. Japan has been and is very good to me.

One of the things I enjoy about Japan are the many ceremonies, tradition and pomp associated with numerous public holidays. As they come up this year I hope to share some of them with you. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to avoid the odd tangent and twisted take on some things but can hopefully string together a fact or too for you along the way.

January 12th 2015 fell on the 2 Monday of the month this year. It is designated as a public holiday know has Seijin no Hi or Coming of Age Day.

I love this day because …….. well obviously I don’t have to go to work!  I had a lovely 3 day weekend and went to a cooking lesson, that’s another posting. It was on the way home that I remembered why I do really love this day.

Coming home I was met by masses of young ladies clad in the most stunning Japanese Kimono. Their hair and makeup was done with finesse. Their Kimono were intricate and colourful. Their obi, the band wrapped around their waists, were tied in different fascinating ways. Young men were looking very spiffy in western suits and some were clad in Hakama, the male version of the kimono.

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I guess Seijin no Hi is the equivalent of our 21st except it is done en mass and is for all young people who have turned 20 that previous year and as far as I am aware there is no giant key or yard glass involved. As you know from my previous train post Japanese love a good crowd so Seijin no Hi is a very colourful and festive day to be rammed into a train.

Local government offices send out invites and young people attend a ceremony in their honour at the City Hall

Young ladies wear a style of kimono called a furisode. It have very long sleeves and is very decorative. It is worn by young unmarried women. Married ladies wear a more sedate kimono with shorter sleeves. This is a good hint for those considering hitting on a pretty young lass in traditional dress.

Visually it is a spectacular day, young ladies are tottering around daintily in their zori, Japanese sandals and  the most gorgeous wear. It`s a uniquely Japanese look and you really feel like you are getting to see part of Japanese culture.

For parents I imagine the day is met with joy and pride. It is like a rite of passage. Grandparents are beside themselves and cameras are at the ready.

However a darker side does loom! The cost of decking one`s child out for this event is horrendous. I guess it might be a kind of wallet opening, trainer wheel, practice run for future weddings.

Hair and Makeup alone can cost $300 to $500. The furisode is very very expensive to buy, they can be more than  $10,000. Rental is an option but even that can be $1000 + give or take. Many people borrow the furisode.

images (2)Should a person invest in a furisode, obviously try to wear it to various events, Seijin no Hi is the day to see young ladies in great numbers decked out like finely feathered birds but you will see young women attending weddings or graduation ceremonies in their furisode. Sometimes they will visit the temple for New Year celebrations in furisode.

images (8)The is a whole profession called Kimono kitsuke or Kimono dressing. Dressing oneself in a full kimono and Obi is quite a feat so there are people who do this for a living. Again not cheap!!!!!

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Professional photographers are employed to take very stiff and formal pictures at needless to say quite a price.

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I remember my sister turned 20 in Japan. She received an invite to the city hall. Her employer lent her a furisode and help dress her. Being gaijin we didn’t go the whole hog on the make up etc but we did stick a big bunch flowers on her head! Her employer helped dress her. wearing the kimono is a little like being strapped an upright table top or surfboard and strapped in very very tightly. The obi is very wide long belt  and is wrapped firmly around the waist reminiscent of a Victorian whale bone corset and tied in an elaborate bow at the back.  My sister staunchly took being roped into this wear in the name of cultural sensitivity and having a uniquely Japanese experience.

images (3)I attended the ceremony as her chaperon. Neither of us had a clue about what was being said but  it took a good hour in a jam packed stuffy hall. (Tangent moment, this is not so different to my recent experiences in Teacher staff meetings!) Poor sis was sitting very upright as there is very little chance of poor posture when strapped to an upright table top. She began to look rather pale and uncomfortable. I think she was strapped in so tight there was the danger of damage to her internal organs! However it must be said she has an enviable waist line to this day! On the way home she was threatening to vomit. I jumped in the taxi , she struggled in and we made it home  where we unraveled    her safely!  NOTE: future kimono wearers, do not eat  the night before wearing the kimono. Drinking in quantity may be ill advised too as there are no stick figure instructions in the toilet on how to maneuver when dressed in a kimono.

download (11)Back to kimonos. you will see older ladies wearing simpler kimonos in everyday situations, waitress in a traditional restaurant wear them and in summer the cotton yukata which is much cheaper is often worn to festivals and parties. Family events and funerals will often have the matriarchs in their kimono.

YUKATA – Cotton Kimono for summer

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download (10)The other time you may see very elaborate kimono is in a bridal party. I love taking my visiting guests to Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. This shrine is a small oasis of calm in the middle of the bustle of Tokyo and we often see a wedding ceremony in progress here. A full wedding may involve up to 4 changes for the bride.

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First a white kimono for the temple ceremony. This seems to be attended by close family and a few friends only. She wears a seemingly bulky white headpiece. download (8)This is called a Tsunokakushi. Tsuno means horns and kakushi means to hide. In other words the future wife`s horns are hidden so the husband can`t see them. The horns represent the more domineering and angry side of a person. The wife and her family don`t want the groom to know things are all going to change the nuptials are completed!

After she has nabbed her poor unsuspecting husband she may change into a heavily embroidered red kimono. This is embroidered with symbols of Long life and happiness like cranes, Then comes the western dresses. A bride may wear a huge white traditional concoction for the reception party and then sometime change yet again into an after party Disney princess version. These type of weddings were very big in the 80`s and early 90`s but with the economic recession in Japan have been toned down somewhat.

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download (5)In 1993 The Imperial Prince, heir to the Chrysanthemum throne married Masako sama. This was a very ritualised traditional wedding. Masako sama wore a 12 layered Kimono of the Heian Court era. It weighed approx 10kgs ( 22lbs) I don’t imagine getting dressed in that was a girly fest of giggles and champagne!

While I would never consider spending thousands of dollars on a kimono I do love the textiles, colours and designs of the kimono and Obi. There are many second hand stores and flea markets where you can pick up bargains. I have purchased several pieces for between    $10 and $50 dollars for purely use as wall hangings or have remodeled the fabric to make interior decoration pieces. The fabric alone is stunning.

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images (4)I love Seijin no Hi and the Kimono for their unique “Japaneseness” and for the paradoxes I see on this day. The young people of Japan are very westernised in terms of dress and more and more in behaviour. In Japan you are constantly subjected to over sexualised images in this such as advertising TV and manga. Young fashion in Japan, without wanting to should like a real old fogey, can be very sexualised and provocative yet on this day we see young women dressed very traditionally and demurely. They can however spice it up with claw like fingernail and nail art and hair colour. Hand in hand with this very traditional dress can  go some less tradtional behaviour such as chugging down a beer or 3 as with the coming of age come the right to drink alcohol. There is also the juxtaposition of looking so sweet and ladylike while sucking back on a ciggy however this seems to be okay as they don’t litter!

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The Kimono is uniquely Japanese. It is beautiful and an integral part of Japanese culture. I hope if you ever have the chance to visit Japan you get to see and appreciate the kimono in all its different shapes and forms.

Maybe you can even try one one on, truly a form of culturally exquisite torture!

Yoroshiki Onegaishimasuimages (1)


3 responses to “Culture, Coming of Age and the Kimono

  1. Pingback: Beans and Demons | nihongojapango·

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