Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tea ceremony in a kimono

After my Japanese lesson on Friday my teacher, Ito-san, and I went to a tea ceremony class, in kimonos.  I bought a Kimono when I was in Kyoto.  It is not a very fancy one, it is synthetic and not silk.  Kimonos can be very reasonable, or extremely expensive.  I went for the low budget kimono option as I will have few chances to wear a kimono but thought it would be something nice to have as a memory from living in Japan, and something that will always fit and never go out of style.

I had most of the pieces I needed but Ito-san was nice enough to lend me the things I didn't have and help put me together.  I had a  hard time not giggling as she was helping me get ready.  The last time someone helped me get dressed was when I got married.  Ito-san had a proud mother hen expression on her face as she was helping me, she is such a lovely person!

If you are going to go all out, there are special under garments that you wear under a kimono (but are pretty much hidden by the other layers) that are shaped like a simple robe with ties.  They are usually thin cotton.  Next comes the under-kimono.  Mine is actually in two pieces, a wrap around skirt and a top (some are one piece).  There is a stiff piece of material that is inserted in to the collar of the under-kimono to give it shape.  The back of the neck should be exposed when the under-kimono is worn properly.  Ties are used to secure the under-kimono in place.  The under-kimono is visible under the kimono. 

The kimono goes on next.  This takes a bit more work to get properly in place.  Kimonos are very long and sizing is done pretty much based on sleeve length and and to some extent circumference but even with my added girth, the fit was still okay.  We had a good laugh about weather to put the ties under or over my baby bump, we opted for under.  With kimonos, you want the hem to be around the top of your tabi socks or around the top of the bone that sticks out on the side of your ankle.  A sash is tied around your waist to set the length of the kimono.  This leaves a flap of material that hangs down.  We used another tie to help hold the upper part of the kimono in place. 

On top of everything goes the obi.  This is a thick, wide band of material that is wrapped around the body a couple of times and is elaborately tied in the back.  I'm guessing mine is around 11-12 feet long.  It's a lot of material.

Kimonos and obi are normally tied very tightly but Ito-san was leaving things pretty loose on me because she didn't want me to be uncomfortable and didn't want to squish the bump.  This was greatly appreciated but also made the outfit a little less stable and by the end of the day I was starting to fall apart a little bit.

We were pressed for time when getting dressed so I did not take any pictures of the process and between the huge sleeves and the lack of a full length mirror in this apartment, I can't seem to get decent photos.  There are a ton of cites on how to wear a kimono if you want more details.

After wearing one for several hours I can assure you that kimonos were not designed for comfort, even when loosely tied.  Range of motion is restricted by the tight, long skirt and slouching is not an option.  The goal is to have a lean columnar shape when wearing a kimono and the amazingly uncomfortable shoes and long sleeves are supposed to keep your movements graceful and dainty.

If you are unfamiliar with tea ceremony in Japan, it is a very formalized set of very specific movements in a very specific order to make, serve and drink tea.  Every move is choreographed from how to open a door (soji screen), cleaning the utensils and bowl, how you hold your hand when scooping water.  Everything.  For example, the container that holds the tea is supposed to be wiped off with a silk cloth before it is opened and tea is made.  There are 16 steps on how to inspect the cloth for cleanliness, another 12 on how to fold the cloth and then another 16 on how to wipe off the tea container.  Each step must be memorized and executed precisely.  There are 1000s of steps to a proper tea ceremony.

As a complete new-be at tea ceremonies I found it very interesting to watch the different women in the class perform these same movements.  It was like watching different dancers perform the same routine.  They all had different levels of competence, different styles and quality of movement.  

Out side of the room was a small fountain in which we had to rinse our hands and mouths.  The room itself was tatami floors and soji screens.  There were 6 other ladies in the class and an instructor.  The instructor was very old but seemed very nice.  She was concerned about me kneeling the whole time.  I switched between kneeling on the floor and sitting on a stool when my feet fell asleep.  Long periods of kneeling are tough on pregnant westerners and I appreciated the chance to politely let my feet wake up.

I did not make tea but participated in the drinking of tea and eating of sweets.  Sweets are eaten before tea is drank.  This is still very strictly ritualized and involved a series of bows, thanking the person to my left for letting me drink tea before them, rotating the bowl, each movement had precise hand placement, drinking the tea in short sips with a loud slurp for the last sip, wiping the lip of the bowl, rotating the bowl, setting it down and bowing.

Tea at tea ceremonies is macha tea, it is a thick, frothy green tea.  I like it but many people don't like it because it is very strong and a little bitter.  It seemed rude to take pictures during the tea ceremony so I didn't ask but did get some pictures afterwards.  Everyone in the class was very kind to me (but spoke no English).  I did my best to answer what few questions I could in Japanese.  I think they were just happy to share their culture with me and insisted that I take the flowers that they had for the class home.  It was a great experience. 

Here is a picture of me in the tea ceremony room.  You can see the tatami floors and to the left of the picture is the pot of hot water that is sunken in the floor.  In olden times this would have been heated by charcoal but instead was a small electric burner under the pot.

Me and my teacher Ito-san

This was the sensai (teacher) of the tea ceremony class.  She spent the class in the chair as she was very old and kneeling hurt her joints. 

This is me after the class (starting to fall apart a little in the kimono department as it is too low at this point and the folds are not looking so crisp.  In the background is my apartment building.

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