Karen Wears a Kimono

My sleepy town is known for two things: locally, it’s famous for Cafe la Famille… and a little more broadly, it’s known for a silk-weaving technique called Yuki-Tsumugi.

And actually, silk is kind of a big deal here in Yuki. The particular weaving technique that my town is known for has been passed down through generations for nearly 2,000 years. Its importance has been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. But most notably, perhaps, are the products of all this silk-weaving, and those are kimono.

A few weeks ago, my town held a small Silk Festival to highlight the intricacies of this honored craft. By far the biggest event of the day was the kimono fashion show, featuring about 50 beautiful kimono as well as student models from three of my five schools! It was great fun to cheer them on. However, I think everything in the festival was more fun for me… simply because I had the privilege of wearing a kimono for the first time!

Along with maybe 15 of my students, I was dressed in a beautiful Yuki-Tsumugi kimono before the festival really began. It took two ladies to dress me because wearing kimono is an art more than a simple act. There’s a lot of strings to be tied and fabrics to be straightened before perfection is achieved.

One noteworthy thing about the actual process of putting on kimono: the silhouette of a person wearing a kimono should be straight. Your shape is not shown… which meant that my chest was an issue. So the solution was to wrap multiple towels underneath my bust, making my body appear, well, less curvy. I thought this was hilarious.

Walking is a bit of a pain–you have to take short, shuffling steps–but I eventually got the hang of it. I was most worried about having to use the bathroom in a kimono, but luckily I never needed to find out how that worked.

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Highlights of the day included:

  • Watching my first tea ceremony performed by the students of my Tuesday school’s tea ceremony club.
  • Eating the fabulous bento lunchbox provided for all teachers and students at the festival.
  • Trying my hand at silk weaving on the jibata (ground loom) and impressing everyone who thought I would fail miserably (I was complimented by one of the professional ladies on my weaving rhythm, and I honestly think it was a genuine compliment).
  • Being photographed for a blog as I used said jibata (I mean, a foreigner wearing a kimono weaving silk on a traditional loom. I was the jackpot for any photographer).
  • Being asked to take selfies with my students (who were also in kimono).
  • Watching the kimono fashion show!

Overall, the Silk Festival in Yuki didn’t draw massive crowds like those found at fireworks festivals or Oktoberfest. Really, it was a lot of local residents and their families, or the parents of the high school students participating. Even so, the festival made me proud to be a new resident of my sleepy little town. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to take part. It makes me feel a little less of a guest, and a little more at home here.

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