Tuesday, October 21, 2008

She clutched the mannequin for dear life

I'm back at kimono school! Despite still not having done my sewing assignment to fix a collar on one of my under-layers, I braved the school's headmistress making yet another off-hand comment about how I don't engage in the domestic art of sewing. Having completed their first course, I am now learning how to dress others in kimono, which is a whole other boru game.

We don't practice on people, but on tiny mannequins who live at the school. I say tiny because they are practically child-sized and about a head shorter than I. Which means that when I am tying the cords and strings that go into holding it all together, I have to kneel on the ground. And then I have to get up without using my hands. Legs swaddled in kimono. Do you see where this is going?

Look in any book on wearing kimono and inevitably it will contain a section at the back with pictures illustrating how to perform certain movements while wearing kimono: getting in and out of cars, pouring drinks, raising your arm to hail a cab and sitting on the ground in seiza, the formal way of sitting in Japan. That horrid position designed to torture foreigners who didn't spend their formative years with their legs tucked under their tushes. To get up from this kneeling position in kimono, you are not supposed to use your hands as any kind of support or hoist, and they are to remain resting on your thighs. Instead, you are supposed to somehow (I obviously don't have the hang of this yet) use your feet as leverage and gracefully stand up just so, without wobbling or lurching forward in the process. The way you are to move in a kimono is very different from wearing Western clothes, these movements are to both keep your kimono nice and to prevent people from seeing a bit of leg, cooch or armpit. I have managed to find some kimono manner position illustrations for your viewing pleasure.

The above illustrates how you get into position. And out...

How to walk up and down stairs and the ole in-and-out with cars...

Now I think I have the whole pigeon walk (keep that kimono from flapping open!), stair walk (don't let anyone glimpse some hot ankle above your tabi!), and car procedure (don't flash your cooch!) down, but getting out of seiza gracefully continues to elude me. (The illustration at the very top is for going to the toilet, although I can't quite decipher exactly what it is that she's doing.)

Before starting this new course I was pretty much able to fudge my way through the sitting routine, as I only had to do it when bowing to my sensei before and after class. But now I need to be up and down all the time and of course, I am wearing kimono while I dress my mannequin. I don't know what I'm going to do when I take the master course, which involves 2- hour-long lectures with the headmistress on the floor. The backs of my knees are sweating just thinking about it!

Over the past few weeks my favourite sensei has been instructing me to deal with the mannequin as if it is real, meaning I can't leave a long end of obi hanging over its neck stump and I can't just shove its arms out of the way when I need to wrap something around the torso. Well, during my last class I found myself kneeling in front of let's call it Manny, and being tired, I couldn't get up properly. I instinctively reached for Manny's hips for leverage and then remembered that I wouldn't be doing that if I was working with a live model. One more half-hearted attempt at a no-hands stand and I stole a sweaty furtive glance at my sensei to check she wasn't looking before I grabbed onto Manny and hauled ass into a standing position. Given the nature of things that seem to happen to me here, I'm more than lucky that Manny was able to support my weight and we didn't go crashing down together. I wonder if there is a kimono manner position for accidental falls.

Several minutes later and despite my attempt to remain standing for the rest of the class, I found myself kneeling behind Manny clutching the ends of a cord in each hand. My next move was to bring those ends to Manny's front and tie them there, something that could only be accomplished by a smooth standing-move. I was literally stuck to the floor, rendered unable to move. Headmistress kept looking over at me, probably wondering what the hell I was fake-contemplating to stall for time. I tried everything-refolding parts in the back, patting things down, smoothing out wrinkles but to no avail-I was going to have to move eventually. And by that I mean right then. I managed to squeeze out some semblance of a standing-move, albeit a jerky robotic dance of one.

This is not one of those things I can avoid, I will have to do it eventually and can't rely on poor Manny as a hoisting post. Nor will I be so lucky next time, as I will most certainly get caught using my mannequin in such an inappropriate manner. For now I will have to contend with the silent judging of my sensei and peers, but know that at night, I will be sitting alone on my fake wood floor, diligently practicing my standing moves.


Kelley Dawne said...

isn't it terrible if you've been sitting in seiza for a long time before trying to stand up?

Even if my feet aren't asleep (and they usually are) I tend to trip on my kimono or lose my balance and fall sideways. I actually tripped on my furisode sleeves on stage once (was dancing a Noh piece) and fell on my butt. LOL!

Auberginefleur said...

Quote: "The illustration at the very top is for going to the toilet, although I can't quite decipher exactly what it is that she's doing"

She's folding up her kimono in preparation, next she will fold up her juban, and well you get the picture.

Quote: "I wonder if there is a kimono manner position for accidental falls."

There is. I think the author Kiguchi wrote on it once, I will look for it.

AF said...

Oops, I was thinking of the 19th c. woman author Higuchi Icho, turns out it was the author Koda Aya, see the quote at