My Results from the Kanto Region’s 2016 Kimono Competition

At my community Japanese class yesterday evening, my teacher, Y-sensei, greeted me with a cry of “What was your time in the competition?”

Every Wednesday since the beginning of September, Y-sensei and I have discussed my upcoming kimono competition during our classes (in my broken Japanese, and in her broken English).  We had particularly discussed the time limit, because for a while, I had a hard time staying under seven minutes. So naturally, she wanted to know if I had beaten the clock… and, of course, if I was going to Tokyo for the All-Japan Competition.

Last night, my answer to both of these questions was…

I really don’t know. Seriously.

Let me explain by relating the day of the Regional Competition.

S-chan and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:20 a.m. We were all staying in a hotel in Utsunomiya, and Kimono-sensei cheerfully roused us by knocking on our doors and greeting us with our first kimonos of the day. (Just the casual kimono we would wear to get our hair and make-up done in. Because that’s casual.)

I spent an hour in hair and make-up, imagining that “this must be what actresses feel like”(specifically Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, although I’m not sure why). I emerged from hair and make-up looking like this:

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It’s the first time I’ve ever–in my life–had a full face of make-up on, fake eyelashes included. I felt very dolled up, and very… not myself. But it was fun for the experience.

Anyways, S-chan and I moved on to breakfast (a buffet, which is a bit of a nightmare when you’re wearing kimono with long sleeves)… then we scrapped our casual kimono and changed into our furisode, before packing up and heading to the hall where the contest was to be held.

The morning was dedicated to rehearsing the opening ceremony and the award ceremony.

Rehearsal can be skimmed over, except for one notable moment: the mock-award ceremony for the children’s competition. Although the presenter stressed that he would call out random competitor’s numbers to pretend to win, the 3- to 7-year old’s weren’t listening. But when he announced the “1st place” winner, a few kids let out cries of disappointment, which had all the adults chuckling.

Moving on to the actual competition:

Rehearsal and lunch were followed by the opening ceremony. The furisode competition (which S-chan was competing in) was directly afterwards.

The foreigner division (which I was competing in) was originally meant to be later on in the program. However, only 3 foreigners signed up this year — myself, a girl from Canada, and a girl from Bangladesh. Because our division was so small, and because the three of us were wearing furisode anyways, the higher-ups decided to tack the 3 foreigners onto the furisode competition.

So the curtain fell on the opening ceremony, and when it rose again, my event had begun.

It was strangely terrifying on stage. At first, I was relatively calm. Halfway through tying my obi, I started seriously questioning my progress. And by the time I had finished dressing myself, I was freaking out that I had missed something terribly important, although I couldn’t remember what exactly I had missed.

Luckily, after months of practice, my fingers knew the right motions and they tied my obi by themselves, even though my brain had shut down.

I was the first of our little group of foreigners to completely finish dressing myself in kimono. This fact surprised me so much that I just froze — my friend J (who drove up to Utsunomiya to support me) later told me that I looked like a lost puppy on stage.

When I finally pulled myself together, I slipped on my shoes and stood at the far-left edge of the stage for the judges to mark me. I had no idea of the time — there were no clocks, no Kimono-senseis with stopwatches — and I no idea what I looked like (of course, there are no mirrors). I just smiled the best I could, and prayed the female presenter wouldn’t interview me.

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The second girl to finish in the furisode division is interviewed.

Of course, because I was the first foreigner to finish, she did interview me. The horror! Thankfully it was a short interview, perhaps due to time constraints, or maybe due to my poor Japanese!

Interviewer: “日本語 OK? — “Is Japanese okay?”

Me: “Um, ちょっと日本語大丈夫です。”  — “Um, yeah, a little Japanese is okay.”

Interviewer: “難しいの質問。”  —  ????????

Me: “Uhhhhhhhhh ?”

And from that point on, she would announce the question in Japanese for the audience, then whisper it to me in English. I would then reply in the simplest Japanese that I knew, to the audience’s amusement.

The interview felt even worse, because I knew that both of the other foreigners (who, by that point, had finished and were standing beside me) were perfectly fluent in Japanese. That female presenter really picked the wrong girl to interview!

In a rush, our event was done. Everyone ran off stage, congratulating each other, and ran back to our prep room to take pictures and drink some tea.

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This girl from Bangladesh was very sweet! Although limited by a lack of a mutual language, we had a lot of fun chatting backstage.

I watched most of the other performances, too. There was the men’s division, the casual division, a performance where four woman put on kimono while dancing… (seriously)…

Unfortunately I missed the children’s competition, but J said that it was one of the most entertaining to watch. Of the ones I did see, my favorite was the school competition, where groups of three students would help dress one another in sync. It’s hard to describe, but it was pretty cool to see live. Another interesting performance involved a few older women who folded obi into the shapes of various flowers found in all the Kanto prefectures.

Finally, it was time for the winners to be announced.

From what I’ve pieced together, the top two competitors in each division of the regional contest will go on to compete in the All-Japan Competition in Tokyo next April.

But when it came to the three foreigners, I honestly think the judges felt awkward about declaring two of us winners, and one of us a loser. So instead, they apparently announced that none of us had won first prize… all three of us had won! Yay..?The three of us were terribly confused. We all received certificates and trophies, then the presenters shuffled us to the side to announce the winners of the casual kimono and the  furisode competition. Tokyo was not mentioned.

This is why I have no clue if I’m going to the All-Japan Competition in Tokyo. I have no idea if I won, since all three of us foreigners technically “won.” It’s a weird sort of limbo, and I feel as if I received a prize just for effort.

Although I finished fastest, I’m certain that I would have been third if the judges had chosen to give out place finishes for us. My kimono was too short, and I had a lot of small style errors with my obi that the girls from Canada and Bangladesh didn’t have. Even so, I wish the judges had announced a first, second, and third place. Even if I had lost, it would have felt decisive. Now I’m not sure what’s happening… and if I do go to Tokyo, I’m not sure that I deserve it.

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My awesome friend and supporter! J and I after the competition was over.

S-chan sadly did not make it to the final round of the furisode competition, so she wasn’t on stage for the final award ceremony. But after everything was over, we agreed that the whole experience had been pretty interesting!

Although my time and my results are uncertain, I know one thing for sure: I’m really grateful that S-chan and I challenged ourselves to compete. S-chan especially made all of those Thursday morning private lessons with Kimono-sensei infinitely more fun, and the competition itself was full of laughter because together, we were so nervously happy to be there. I can’t post a photo that I have of the two of us backstage — she’s still a student, after all — but know that we are both smiling widely, giddy after the excitement of the competition.

If I find out about Tokyo, for better or for worse, I’ll write an update.

But for now it’s enough to say that I did my best, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to compete!

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