Wednesday, April 1, 2009

mm yeah, not so atarimae

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.


jellybeanzkelley said...

Even my mother and grandmother can't sew and they grew up before feminism was big in Canada. I don't know anyone who knows how to hand-sew neatly. And the ladies in your kitsuke class must be unique, because none of my Japanese friends can sew or knit either. Weird.

jaredinnakano said...

It's cool, GEG, that you find time in your salary woman life for traditional culture (kimono wearing) and modern culture (host clubs). Being a student, even when one is an adult, can be fun. But you can't know everything!

Lisa said...

I had a few weeks of sewing (a tote bag) and cooking (a nasty fat-free chocolate cake and some tacos) in the 6th grade. I sew but most of my sewing knowledge comes from my mom.

I think everyone should learn basic sewing and cooking. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to learn calculus when my brain was young, but there are other things which are also an essential part of education!

kathrynoh said...

I tried to learn to sew when I was younger, thinking I could make heaps of wonderful clothes. Ha. It's not even the sewing that does me in, it's the cutting. Cutting fabric is so very hard!

I can knit though.

Rydangel said...

don't feel bad. nowadays they don't even teach home-ec in the schools. especially if you go to a public school in the states. one of my nephews goes to a public school in a rich area(boxer evander holyfield's son is in his class, along with the son of the head of coca-cola) and they have all kinds of nice amenities. they even teach spanish,french,and manadrin to the students AND their families for free! my other nephew who is the same age lives 15 minutes from the first one, his public school can't even afford to buy sports equipment for gym class, let alone teach stuff like art,music and home-ec. and 15 years ago when i was in school,you could choose your electives. i took woodshop and made a nice clock.8D