I Can Dress Myself


Remember how proud you were when you first realized you could dress yourself? I was a little embarrassed sitting on the school bus noticing that feet hurt because my shoes were on the wrong feet, but still proud. Well, yesterday I dressed myself for a party. When I first moved to Japan, my boss’s husband was a doctor. His sister is also a doctor; as is her husband. I don’t know the details, but I think the three of them own a hospital. Behind the hospital is an Edo Period (江戸時代) home (古民家), which they moved from Niigata Prefecture (新潟県). Every year they have a party celebrating the anniversary of the hospital opening (開院記念会). The last time I was invited, I wore a yukata (浴衣) to the event.

Yukata are lightweight kimono (着物) for wearing in the summertime. Everyone seemed to enjoy my choice of clothes at that event, but later, a couple anal-retentive friends explained that (although the weather is warm enough) a yukata should not be worn before early July. This year, after repairing some relationship rifts that had opened, I received an invite to this year’s event. Wearing traditional clothes to such an event in such a house gives me a great feeling. Others seem to enjoy it as well, so I decided to buy a kimono to wear. A decision was made not to buy just yet – which is another story – and I received a free loaner kimono from a friend.

There are many parts necessary to kimono wearing and I had to buy a few accessories. Tabi (足袋) are the Japanese equivalent of socks. In kanji characters it means “foot clothes”. They are like heavy cotton slippers and are one of the few pieces of footwear which can be used inside. They are open in the back and are fastened up with four brass blades which slide under pairs of thread loops. The big toe is separate from the others – like a mitten for feet – because geta and zori have straps which meet between the two biggest toes. We had to custom order a pair for my 28cm feet. There are folks with bigger feet than mine, but most of the people wearing traditional clothes are much smaller than me.

Geta (下駄) are plain wood sandals with velvet straps and two wood cleats on the bottom. They are made from paulownia wood, called kiri (桐) in Japanese. I bought a cheap pair made from very young wood. They will wear down faster than the very durable older wood, but mine were about 2000 yen versus more than 10,000 yen for a nice pair. If I find I am wearing them often, I might consider an upgrade. With kimono they are worn with tabi; with yukata or more casual clothes, the feet should be naked (裸足).

Beneath the kimono we wear suteteko (すててこ), which are very thin cotton underpants. They are about as long as plus-fours and aren’t terribly expensive.

The first layer of the kimono is called juban (for which I can’t find the kanji). This layer is very light and silky and often has amazing artwork on it. The Japanese aesthetic is that you have a special feeling that comes from simply knowing the art is there. You don’t have to see it to know it is there, and you certainly don’t need to flaunt it to others to receive true enjoyment. All too many times I have seen people parading around in these in American movies: not unlike brazenly wearing a bra and panties to entertain guests. It is tightly secured with strap near the middle of the hips.

The actual kimono is worn over that layer. It is heavier and has a simple design (for men, that is) and is secured with a much heavier strap, called obi (帯). The obi should be wrapped very tight and is secured with an intricate knot. It is considered very cool for the obi to be slung low in the front (quite a trick, since it should be tight) and cradle a belly. I suggested to my kimono teacher that I should gain a little weight, but she said I had plenty belly now. I practiced the knot several times over the past few weeks and was excited that I could get it right for the party.

Over the kimono, I wore a haori (羽織), which is a mid-length overcoat. It is attached in the front with a braided and knotted rope. At the party, one nice lady helped me correct the collar, which is flipped back and creates long lapels down the open front.

Many Japanese people don’t know how to wear a kimono, and others can’t manage getting everything tied on themselves. Some friends run businesses of putting kimono on people. They are very busy around Coming of Age Day. Everyone was amazed that I could dress myself.

Sitting properly in kimono involves kneeling. I often sit in this style, called seiza (正座) or proper sitting, when I am practicing calligraphy; however, I take many breaks during the four hour class. During the concert at the party, my feet were in agony. Over dinner, two friends gave me tips on how to keep the legs from falling asleep and how to stimulate the blood flow before standing up.

The Good Doctor took some photos after the event. Hopefully, I can get an electronic copy to show you here. Regardless, I will take some photos of the geta.


2 Responses to “I Can Dress Myself”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    “plenty belly” Heh. I’d be interested to hear the tips for sitting kneeling without making your knees angry and getting pins and needles.

  2. びっくり Says:

    My belly really isn’t so big, but I won’t go trying to make it bigger. One tip was to cross your feet. I’m not sure about that one. I think it will keep one leg from falling asleep. Another tip today, was to put your butt on the floor with your heels on either side of your tush and the inside of your feet flat on the floor. If you have read any manga or watched any anime, you have undoubtedly seen young girls in this pose. I think I would have to pop a few tendons and ligaments in my knees to bend them like that. One good tip for waking your feet up, is to sit on your heels with your toes bent under so they rest on the floor. This works pretty good, but by the time my ankles are hurting I can’t physically move to that position.

    One problem for me is that my lower legs are longer than the zabuton cushions, so my ankles are pressing against the edge of the cushion, cutting off blood flow.

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