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Tuesday, November 28

All These Things That I've Done

Japanese festivals are held in the fall and spring and are a good opportunity to experience a lot of culture all at one time and place. Fumie told me of one such festival this past weekend and Sunday found me with even more experience under that ever widening belt of encounters.

Upon entering, we went straight to the Ikebana section where another friend was showing the Ikenobu style of Ikebana. Of course we took a lesson! It never hurts to experience every school when there is an opportunity. I personally loved this as it was very much a free style, and indeed what it was called even.

Leaving there, we strolled by the origami table for a glance but I had other missions in my mind. Japanese Tea Ceremony. Prior to entering the tatami room, we removed our shoes and quietly entered the room to a few spots in the corner. Sitting Japanese style with our legs tucked underneath us, it only took five minutes before my toes were entirely numbed. Sweets are served prior to tea by a woman who sits directly in front of you. There is a ceremonial way of doing everything, even eating this artfully painted cookie filled with green, gooey goodness that she has placed in front of you. The cookie is placed on a position in between you and the woman but not on the mat you are sitting. You bow to the woman who serves and they bow back and then you move the cookie towards you and then slowly proceed to pick it up and eat it. It is served on a napkin and you do not place the napkin back on the mat but instead in a pocket or the folds of a kimono.

Then tea is made and served to you. Same procedure for placement and bowing but when it is set down, the nice side of the cup will be facing you. You pick it up, turn it two times so that the nice side is now facing out and then using both hands to hold the tea, you drink. The container is less like a tea cup and more like a bowl but that could have just been the location with which we were at. The tea itself is a grassy green shade and thick from the ground tea leaves. Placing the cup carefully down, they collect them and move to the next step.

A woman will again seat herself in front of you, this time with a container in her hands filled with scent. I completely forget what she said but it could be a few different things. I think this one was sandalwood. Cupping your hands in a very particular manner to capture the scent, you bend your head to smell from each side of you nose and then once from the whole nose. The scent is meant to calm you.

And then you are done!

We took an extra step and went to another room to learn how to prepare the tea. Pretty simple but of course done with reverence, you put the hot water in the cup, add the tea leaves and then use the wooden brush in a quick flicking motion back and forth to the front and back of the cup to mix it. You have to mix it some time to get the tea leaves to dissolve. Of course, a sweet before you drink it which in this case was a little cookie shaped like a dove and yet another napkin in my pocket (later was actually beneficial when I couldn’t find TP but that is totally not noteworthy to share) and then you drink your self-made cup of tea. You drink it quickly or the tea leaves start to separate again. Or perhaps it was just that I didn’t flick hard enough to start.

Filled with green tea and cookies, we headed to our next destination and the exact thing I have been waiting to do since I arrived… Kimono dressing! Yes, Kimono Karen can finally fully assume that title.

I knew this was quite a procedure but I have an even more profound respect for this beautiful costume now. It took two women tugging and pulling about fifteen minutes to get the under layers and kimono on me. This part included straps that I didn’t quite understand what they were for and towels tied high above my waist to make a clean, straight line followed by the kimono itself. Then another fifteen minutes for the various pieces of the obi to be placed on me. The obi is the gold part high on my waist and it is the piece that makes the kimono. These ladies fluffed and tugged and tucked and pulled until I was cinched within an inch of my breathing well being. Once this is all done, I had to sit for another ten minutes while they did my hair. Of course, you can’t bend anymore so I sat entirely straight with perhaps the best posture I have ever exhibited in my life! I should wear this thing every day. The final picture… I think it came out pretty well. I’m no Japanese empress as I only wore three layers (well, two and one that was made to look like a third) and the empress wears up to twelve, but I think I did pretty well. Most importantly, I really experienced the part I was waiting for during my time living here. There is only one other time in my life that I have honestly felt so pretty and that was on my wedding day. If I could wear a kimono every day just to boost my self-image, I totally would. Of course I would need to hire a staff to dress me which I am guessing would be out of the question with Kimono Hubby.

I pranced around for some time while Fumie snapped pictures and I really never wanted to take it off. Alas, it was getting late so I reluctantly let them peel off the layers of my new self, back to regular breathing, boring little me.

But, the day was not to be completed yet! There was one more thing I wanted to try. Japanese Shodo… a form of calligraphy. Out of three words to learn, I choose the word “tomo,” or friend if you want the plain English of it. They help you through the first and second and then let you practice on a third and then give you an art board with which Japanese Shodo artists use to paint their art on. This white board is tipped in gold and as elegantly as I could, I wrote tomo down in Japanese character. For a first attempt, it wasn’t actually bad. The last step was a paper wall calendar that you again write your word on. Who knows, someone may get lucky and earn this little gem as a Christmas present! Who wants to get lucky?
There were so many other events at the festival and other things to try. The afternoon was dwindling down and it was time to go home, however, and leave the rest for another day and another festival. I grinned the whole way home and pronounced upon entering through the door that this may have been my very best day yet here in this foreign home of mine.


Anonymous said...

Wow- these pictures are the coolest thing ever! you look FABULOUS!! What a great experiance! you're never going to forget this.


Mike S said...

You look so glowing & happy. I always found kimono had that effect on women. Glamour for a day. The little tea bowls are the same for the ceremony wherever you go. I've gotten to where I love so many things from around the world such as green tea, that they're in a rotation of morning beverages here to get to sample them all regularly. Green tea is a favorite. Kinda miss the kerosene heaters with the always present green tea fixings.