Monday, February 22, 2010

Kimono Sunday

The recently formed Chicago Kimono Club had a kimono-wearing event on Sunday, February 21st, from 1-3pm. I’ve invited people and advertised it to the JETAA community and on IG, but I was the only attendee who was not Japanese. That’s okay! I’ll keep at it; it’s good experience.

I was debating all day Saturday and Sunday morning if I’d wear kimono, but I decided against it and even forewent haori. I didn’t want to put on kimono there due to the sarashi being a bit of a hassle and requiring no modesty whatsoever (for the uninitiated, a sarashi is a 10m length of white cotton wrapped around the body, often under kimono; it can be seen on some taiko players, wrapped around their middle). I tried to find a picture of one on a person, but I could only find a picture of sarashi in a package.

A few people dropped by to say hello, but there were 6 or 7 people who stayed for the entire time. Aside from myself, there were the founders of the NCJAA (New Chicago Japanese American Association), Youko-san and Sugano-san, another woman who wanted practice with obi only, and two women in their 20s who were in the US for school. They were the ones mostly learning to wear kimono, and one of them takes koto lessons as well (but I forgot which one). One girl had the cutest haircut, and it really suited her and the kimono look. It gave her a modern retro look.

[Don't mind the glasses, it's for anonymity.]

Halfway through, Sun-san showed up. Sun-san was instructing at the last seminar. She was a kimono dresser at a salon, and can do it very quickly. I asked her this time how she learned, and she said that first she was a hairdresser, but expanded her services. She practiced by dressing people every day for a year, and so got good that way. I understand now why she said she wasn’t licenced or from a particular school; she just had to learn as a matter of course.

She showed some quick-dressing when she arrived. She had the juban and the kimono already together, held by a clip. Instead of a chikara-nuno (an extra piece of fabric sewn to the collar to help keep the back of the collar down), she had a himo sewn to the midline of the juban, about one stretched-out hand distance down the back from the collar. It came though the arm holes and tied in the front. When the himo ends were equal in length, she knew it was straight. To get a V-shape in the back, you sew it once, in the middle; for a U-shape, sew it in the middle and 2 sides, to hold those down (under the shoulderblades). You can also do this with safety pins in a pinch.

Once that was tied, she tied the himo which had been sewn to her nagajuban, and quickly aligned her collar and tied it. She had it on in a minute or less; it was truly impressive! (She was waering it over her clothing, but it still was quite smooth.) On this, she wore the kimono. Instead of holding the front and grabbing the back seam and lifting up like I was taught, she holds the ends of the collars out in each hand, lifts up, and lowers it down until it’s the right length. Following this, she does the usual alignment of the skirt seams and ties her koshihimo.

Making her ohashori was different, and a snazzy, fast trick! It looked nice and smooth, too, and it was something I’d never tried. She aligned the kimono collars, showing 1.5cm of juban collar on each side of the cross-point, and tied a regular himo just under her bust. Then, she reached in from the right and folded/pushed the inner layer out of the way, so the ohashori was one layer, and then used a rubber/polyester datejime (but you could use a non-polyester one) and placed it low, just a few inches above the ohashori. It didn’t cover the upper himo at all, and held the inner fabric out of the way. I tried this on a girl who I was helping teach kitsuke, and it works! It’s so easy. Maybe hard to explain, but one day I should get pictures or a quick video to show what I mean.

Following this, she put on the hanhaba obi, tying it in a bunko/chocho (butterfly) variation. The whole thing, even with her talking, was about 5 minutes. Ahhh, I love learning different ways to do things!

As for myself, I was paired up with one of the young Japanese women, and I taught her how to tie bunko obi, as she was young (and honesty, I can’t tie bunko without a lot of practice… one crutch of always using a biyosugata). When Sun-san came in, she complimented it, and the girl had tied it herself, so that was nice.

Afterward, we cleaned up, had tea, and chatted. Sun-san is doing a kimono show at the Japan Festival 2010 near Mitsuwa Market on June 26th and 27th. I hope to be in Canada by then, so I can’t go, though the festival looks like a lot of fun and they were hoping I’d show up. They want to have another event in May, before I leave, sort of as a farewell. How sweet! I’m supposed to pick the day based on my schedule, but I think anytime but AN weekend is okay.

All in all, glad I went. It was nice to see my Japanese friends again, try out my poor Japanese, and pretend I was in Japan (being in a back corner of a building with only Japanese people will do that).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Impermanence of All Things: Heike Monogatari Biwa Concert

On Thursday, the 3rd of February, Hiraoka Yoko performed in the theatre on the third floor of the Ida Noyes Building on the University of Chicago campus. The event was sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies.

Hiraoka Yoko is known for koto, shamisen, and biwa. She studied under Iemoto Suga Kouka, and has been given the performance name Youka. Her teacher, Suga Kouka, is an inheritor of the Yamato-ryu Biwa-gaku style under Living National Treasure Yamazaki Kyokusui. Her training is strongly centered on the classical medieval collection of The Tale of Heike.

The Ida Noyes building is a lovely old building with interesting architecture. It reminded me of some of the buildings around Queen’s Campus or old churches. The buiding had character. The hall had a small stage, about 3 – 4 feet high, and murals on the walls. One side had large windows to look out onto the rest of the campus, or the glowing lights (as I was there when it was dark). The stage lacked a spotlight, and so was lit with a large table lamp, casting a warm glow over the biwa and seiza cushion. The back of the stage was blocked by a velvet ochre curtain.

Ida Noyes Hall

Ida Noyes Hall Theater

Hiraoka-san came out wearing modern red kimono that looked fuchsia in the warm light. The sleeves were long, perhaps 60cm, and the ends were black with white and gold specks. The sleeves also had butterfly motifs. It reminded me of an altered furisode, giving a mature but still youthful feeling. The picture I found is of the same outfit, but the dateeri color she wore for the concert was green, which was the same color as embroidered kiku (chrysanthemum) on her gold obi. It gave a slight nod to spring, but was appropriately formal and not overly so. Her hair was in a ponytail with a barrette and a black tulle bow kanzashi.

Hiraoka-san gave a lecture recital that lasted approximately 90 minutes. You can read more about it on her website. It was both informative and entertaining. It was my first time hearing biwa, and it reminded me of the shamisen in a way. I couldn’t tell if the biwa accentuated the singing and storytelling, or if the storytelling accented the biwa music. The Tale of Heike was originally shared through biwahoshi (storytelling with biwa music). Her renditions were accentuated by slides showing reference images and pictures of shoji screens.

The parts of The Tale of Heike that she performed included Gion Shoja, which opens with the classic lines, “The sound of the bells at the Gion temple echoes the impermanence of all things”. She also performed Nasu no Yoichi, the tale of the archer knocking a fan off the enemy’s boat in a tossing sea, and The Tragedy at Dan-no-Ura, about the drowning of the young Emperor.


I attended with my friend, Sugano-san, who is a koto instructor in Chicago. She was telling me about having dinner with Hiraoka-san the night before, and how enjoyable it was to catch up. It makes me wish my Japanese was better, as she has some amazing connections!

Unfortunately, we could not take pictures in the hall, and my camera is terrible in low-light, so I found the photos online to illustrate this post. The outfit in the picture is the same as she wore to the concert at Ida Noyes Hall. You can see more pictures of her and learn more about Hiraoka-san, biwa, koto, and shamisen music, at her website. Her 2010 performance calendar is available. It seems she’ll be visiting Colorado, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Florida in the future.

Here is an article in the Chicago Weekly about the concert.