How Do You Make Ends Meet?

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Traditional life in Japan is very time-consuming and expensive. There are all sorts of holidays, many of which have gift-giving, clothes-buying, and money-donating obligations. One recent discussion revolved around furisode (振袖), literally “flapping sleeves”, which are kimono in bright, flashy patterns with sleeves that drape down well past the waist. These are worn by single women, sometimes only once for their coming of age ceremony, and can be rented for around 100,000 yen (~$1000) or purchased for 500,000 to 1,000,000 ($5-10,000). Extremely elegant models also exist. This cost doubles if you add in proper accessories.  I may write more about that (with photos) on another occasion, but today I’m on another expensive holiday.

Hinamatsuri (ひな祭り)will take place on March 3rd. This is a festival for little girls; although, I sometimes think it might be more for the mothers and grandmothers. A dais with multiple levels, like a stairway, gets set up in the home and decorated with an array of figures representing a full imperial court. Some people make their own dolls in very small form to save money. Other cost-cutters short the number of dolls. The largest display I have seen took up a space about one meter by two meters. In an animated series, I saw one large enough for a criminal to hide underneath one of the steps. I’ve never gotten detailed pricing, but just reports of it being expensive. At least in this case, things can be handed down, and used year after year. The large set I saw was apparently third or fourth generation.

This festival is on my mind because I was asked to translate a special song for the festival. When I got the lyrics, I saw it had already been translated. After a little discussion, I got the impression they wanted me to modify the translation so it could be sung (chanted) to the tune. This took a bit of work, but kind of reawakened a part of me that used to write poetry. It is quite fun adjusting sentence structure and word choices to get a certain rhythm or length. Trying to match the feeling of the original Japanese text added a little fun in as well.

Special kimono are needed for three, five, and seven-year-old boys and girls. These also are worn for one day and, kids changing size as they do, can’t be kept for the event two days later. I hear that these have to use special fabric because of children’s sensitive skin, which jacks the price up a bit.

Anyhow, I often wonder how poor and lower-middle class folks make ends meet. Mostly, I think they are tied to their economic position by the system. On the bright side: those kids are so cute when they’re all dolled up for the festivals.

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