I love the word atarimae. I employ it like a valley girl to say something is, like, so totally obvious. It is used to mean "a given" or something that is normal, or natural. Like the ability to sew possessed by any woman worth a damn.
The first time I was handed a needle and thread during my kitsuke class and told to attach a piece of fabric to another piece of fabric with them I looked down at the objects in my hands as a caveman might have gazed upon a microwave. The last time I put fabric together in some semblance of apparel was when I look traditional Japanese sewing classes as an exchange student and whipped up an unlined kimono with some heavy-handed help from my sensei. As in, she practically had her hands over mine, guiding them, the entire time. When the kind but scarily perfect proper and prim headmaster of my kitsuke school saw me struggling along with lots of finger-gouging and drunk ass stitches, she offhandedly asked, Oh you don't do much sewing at home? Shoot me now I thought, I have entered a sisterhood of sewers. The only girls in my acquaintance who are my age and who sew do it for a living, not as a skill to be added to the long list of other lady-like accomplishments like drawing, piano forte and singing (sorry, I've just finished reading five Jane Austen novels).
The last time I actually made a stitch was when I was 12 and sewed a pair of red silk boxer shorts with little white cows on them for home-ec class. In this day and age we are no longer taught the value of domestic skills growing up. I wish I could cook, sew and give my apartment a proper cleaning, not for a husband and brood of brats but all for myself. What a fantastic skill to be able to sew your own clothes! Enough fantasizing though. I can't sew, not even a measly hand stitch to create a passable hem. But the way the headmaster asked me, it was all too clear that I should know how to sew. I felt like asking her where everyone else learned because you can't tell me every woman in Japan has continually practiced sewing since home-ec in middle school.
Last week I sat across from my teacher at a small table on the tatami floor as she taught me how to attach a han-eri, which is a decorative collar worn under kimono. I tried to preempt any surprise at my complete lack of stitching skills by telling her that I never sewed and couldn't recall the last time I had. Still, it was painful to have her sitting across from me the whole time, watching me fumble along, probably wishing she could just do it for me.
At the end of my class this week my teacher commented on how nice another student's furoshiki and matching bag were, which prompted the student to offer that her mother had just whipped it up for her from some old obi fabric. I felt instantly resentful and recognized the same feeling as when I had heard another student talking about how she had gone to her parents' house to pick up a kimono that her mother had fixed for her. Lucky bitches, I thought, they don't realize just how not a given having a mother in the same country and knowing how to sew really is for some people.