Monday, February 23, 2009

Kimono ladies who lunch

I found myself on Sunday afternoon pigeon-toe walking my way down Roppongi-dori towards Nishi-azabu. The wind was gusting and I was, like many Japanese women before me, trying to make sure the front of my kimono didn't blow open and put my cooch on display to the world. It wasn't quite that extreme I suppose, for if you are wearing a kimono properly (check), there are 3 layers of overlapped fabric to ensure your modesty. I was worried about the layer directly under my kimono being exposed, not quite akin to flashing your panties but about one layer of fabric away. But one thing I am sure of, is that I was trying super hard to walk like a pigeon.

This after I had navigated a train ride and some subway steps, cursing myself the whole way for neglecting to check a kimono manual for some visual guidance on how to do steps daintily, ensuring the only skin any one is going to see is the nape of your neck. For all intents and purposes, it was my kimono debut. Despite my love for kimono and the kitsuke lessons that I can no longer do without, I have always felt some strange reticence for going out in kimono. I'm not quite sure why, I think it's a bit of a shock to be a gaijin in a kimono, not a yukata, but in a full-out kimono ensemble. I stick out like a sore thumb already and adding a kimono to that ups the ante a little too much for my liking. But on Sunday everything went off without a hitch so maybe I will grow a pair and start acting like someone in a master course for kimono.

My kimono school was holding a slightly late shinenkai (New Year party), so 40 or so of us donned our finest and congregated here for an afternoon of French cuisine and entertainment. The space itself was lush and as we had rented out the entire restaurant, we all got to descend a long white staircase into the dining room as we arrived, making it feel like a debutante ball. I'll be the first to admit, I don't really "get" French food, or at least not the kind they serve at poncy French restaurants. When I was in France with my parents as a young and ignorant girl, I am purported to have said with wrinkled nose, that French food is "too fancy and saucy". A classic line that is still repeated to me today with glee. I stand by the younger version of myself today. While it looks fantastic, yesterday I felt like I was force-feeding myself course after course of rich yet bland food. The price tag? 16000 yen. I'm not going to gripe about the price, I knew what I was getting into, but I could have just eaten 16 tasteless thousand-yen notes and have felt about as satisfied as I was after that meal.

Halfway through our meal we were treated to some entertainment on the koto. Fancy French and traditional Japanese music? Not such a bad combo as it turns out, which is more than I can say for the second half when a bellydancer came out and whirled among our tables, occasionally stopping to make sure her tits weren't falling out of her sparkly top. I love bellydancing, I love Middle Eastern music, but with all of us in our prudish kimono and a couple old geezers from the National Kimono something Association, it felt a bit like being in a drawing room in 19th century England where a savage and untamed "local" had been brought back on one of the ships to shock and entertain us. It was all a bit illicit.

It was funny watching the reactions on people's faces when the dancer shook her money-makers in their faces but I think a lot of women would have liked to get up and shake it too, had it not been for their tubular dress. I won't go on to say that kimono is restricting and the result of a patriarchy, etc., but having a bellydancer perform in front of a room of kimono-clad women was quite a sight to see. Talk about drawing a line between the two. The ideas and thoughts surrounding kimono today are certainly not what they used to be. Now confined to a form of dress seldom worn on an everyday basis, kimono wear and theory has gotten much stricter. I can't tell you the number of times I've had Japanese women ask me "isn't it difficult to breathe?" after being told I take kitsuke classes. I feel like reminding them that while kimono today are different than past eras, kimono used to be all people wore and were built for comfort and movement, vastly different to how one imagines them today. Looking at the bellydancer's outfit you would think the two couldn't be more different from each other. While the range and type of movement is different, they are similar in that the clothing dictates the movement and action allowed and in turn, the movement dictates how the clothing is made and styled. Despite the strange feeling of watching the scantily-clad dancer twirl around us, I had to remind myself that the movements and dancing figure of a woman in kimono who knows how to move properly in one, can be equally pleasing to the eye, albeit in a different way.

The rest of the afternoon passed away in a blur of wine and creamy desserts, punctuated by some shop talk with the women I was seated with. I don't get a chance to speak to other students when I am at the school, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a chance to talk with them and confess similar fears over collars, knots and pulling too tight. I even had a pleasant exchange in Japanese with code-switcher, so I think all is forgiven until the next time she tries the ole switcheroo on me.


Theda said...

I'm a belly dancer, and I kinda cringed at your description of the one your group had. The belly dancing I know; and am used to, is graceful and celebrates the feminine form...I'm sure you know what I am referring to. Oh well, the description was still funny-moving on to the subject of "obsolete" women clothes: I wear corsets(custom made, specifically to wear underneath your clothes), on a daily basis.
They help my posture, and have helped my lower back problems a great deal. I get a similar reaction when I tell other women that I wear them:

"Oh gawd, isn't it uncomfortable?"

"How can you breathe? ugh, you could never get me into one of those!!"

In other words, yeah, I kind of understand where you're coming from =)

Kelley Dawne said...

HAHA! I cant believe they had a belly dancer there! Thats priceless!

And yes, you should wear kimono out in public...with me! =D Lets wear our komon kimonos somewhere and just hang out!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Theda: That's cool, are you a dancer in Japan by any chance? Bellydancing is beautiful, I agree, and the woman who performed at the lunch was great except for her unprofessional and (I think) vulgar and overexaggerated displays of putting her boobs back in while grinning like a maniac. May I ask, are you wearing corsets strictly for back problems or also for aesthetic reasons? I'm curious...

Kelley: You're on girl.

Theda said...

Gree-Eyed Geisha: Hehe, I'm a belly dancer in California, although I have not danced in almost a year because the hubs and I keep moving all over the state, and it's important to find a troupe you can form a bond with, and spend time with as well.

I started wearing the corset for aesthetic reasons(waist training), and found by accident that it helped my back =D

Holy crap she actually had to put her knockers back in? *laughs* that's just too much.

Anonymous said...

Very late comment, but you mentioned a kimono school, and that got me curious. Do you go to an academy building to learn, or is it in someone's house? Which school is it?

I guess I should read more of your blog to find out.

Though you have a lovely way with words!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

eleryth: Thanks for commenting. I go to a small school here in Tokyo. I had a quick peek at your blog and see you learned in Aomori?

Anonymous said...

It's possible to prevent kimono from coming open on windy days using a korin belt on the skirt, like this: [diagram link].

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Thanks for the cute link Anon, it's a good idea for antique kimono that don't have as much "mihaba" to properly wrap. I was over-exaggerating a bit though, I wasn't in true danger of exposing anything.