Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nikkei Matsuri

The Nikkei Matsuri in San Jose's Japantown is one of the festivals that I look forward to attending every year. It is a vibrant little street festival with lots of artisan vendors, food booths, music, demonstrations and performances. For me, it has become one of the markers of the seasons-- with the Nikkei Matsuri, spring is really here.

Since this is a festival of the arts and of spring (as well as corresponding loosely with 'Boy's Day,' at least in that the big carp flags are always brought out for this festival), I of course wished to dress for the season. Recently, I'd acquired through E-bay a lovely kimono of a pale silver color with a repeating diamond design of fans in dark purple. I had thought that the colors would be cool enough to hint at 'spring' and that I could wear an obi and cords that would accent the feel of the season. Unfortunately for this plan, the weather promised to be quite warm and I couldn't justify going out in a fully lined kimono to a place that had plenty of hope of shade, but little of seating or air conditioning.

I didn't want to opt for one of my yukata, for though they are cotton and unlined, and entirely appropriate for an outdoors festival, I felt that they were just a little too casual for an occasion where I hoped to be taking in some of the classical dance demonstrations, as well as shopping on the street. Fortunately, there were other options.

Front view of hitoe kimono with woven obi.

Back view of hitoe kimono with musubi tied by  Ann.
This is an unlined or hitoe kimono that I picked up at Nichi Bei Bussan during their 'Thank you' days. Being unlined, I didn't have to worry about having an extra layer on top of the juban that I wore to protect the garment. What I did worry about was that the colors would be a little too autumnal, especially with an obi in a golden tone. I think I was able to offset that effect by highlighting the blue hints in the obi with my bag and the blue on the hanao of my geta. The kanzashi also say 'spring' and though you can't really see it, I'm wearing a second stick that has a little koi charm on it in honor of the carp that are flown for this festival.

One of the things that I enjoy about this festival is that it affords an opportunity to see others dressed in kimono.

Of course my eyes were closed, but we couldn't resist the photo-op.
Beyond seeing others in kimono, this can also be a time to educate people on how to wear their kimono. When one is approaching the garment for the first time, there are all kinds of mistakes that can be made, starting with how it is crossed across the body (you always want to be left over right, unless you are dressing a corpse!). I regret that I was not present when Ann did her good deed for the day and helped a young woman get into her own yukata properly.

It was also fun to see some cosplayers (individuals dressed in the manner of anime/manga characters that they like) wandering around, though we didn't get any photos of them.

A final shot-- the pinwheel was given to me by the gentleman in the right-hand side of the previous photo.
Every year, I see more and more people coming out to the festival in kimono or costume, and I hope that the trend continues as more people discover the joys that can be had with dressing for the occasion.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

But you don't look...

It's a phrase that gets tossed around a lot. 'You don't look sick,' or overweight or whatever it is about yourself that you feel acutely because you're living in the skin you're in. It's meant to be a reassurance, but for  those of us who are hearing it those words don't help. Yes, it's nice to know that we're passing for normal or for healthy, but those words aren't going to change how we feel about ourselves. In fact, they usually make us feel worse because we've just been told that whatever it is we're struggling with is invisible; it doesn't matter because we're passing for fine.

To say that this is a complicated issue for me is an understatement. Like many, I struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. I am also one of those people who 'doesn't look overweight.' The people who say this don't know that my pants size has gotten bigger or that I feel very awkward in the shirts that they say are flattering. Knowing how to use clothes as camouflage simply means that I've figured out how to look good, not how to feel good about how I look.

You may have noticed that there hasn't been much activity here for several months. I had been dressing but not as often-- I even have photos somewhere of the snow-bunnies as worn to a Christmas dinner, but most of my photos from winter were taken inside and frankly there is no saving them from bad lighting.

Another contributing factor to my silence has been how I feel about being in kimono. I love these garments, I love how I feel when I wear these garments but there have been times when I don't feel that my frame is doing a good job of showing them off. Kimono are essentially an assembly of rectangles, and the ideal look is of a cylindrical profile. Being the American I am, a cylinder is most certainly not how I would explain my profile.

However, wearing kimono is not just about how the garment fits. The reason I started to wear kimono in the first place was to highlight the garment and the assembly of the ensemble. With kimono, the fabrics can do all of the talking. It's about the look as a whole, not the shape of the person under the layers. With kimono, I can feel good about the look that I'm presenting and look good while I'm at it. I know this, I can intellectualize it, but that doesn't always make pulling together an ensemble easier.

What I've been missing has been my final accessory: Confidence. With the return of spring, I am feeling renewed. I've been working on eating right and getting more exercise. Fresh air is a great confidence builder and to that end, I finally put together an ensemble (with the help of Ann) to take a little trip to Nichi Bei Bussan. As you may have guessed, I will take any opportunity to visit that store, and a couple of weeks ago, they were having their annual 'Thank You Days,' (which translated to 15% off consignment and vintage items and 20% off much of the rest of their merchandise) which I wasn't about to miss.

It was incredibly spring-like on the day that we decided to go and as I often do, I puzzled for some time over what to wear. This was the ultimate decision:

Front view of the Koi.

Back view, with the simple bow that Ann tied for me. This also gives a clearer shot of my kanzashi.

This outfit really wouldn't have come together as well as it did were it not for Ann. I usually like to pair this kimono with a very striking obi to offset how busy the pattern is. For this occasion, however, I didn't want to be quite that bold. It's springtime, after all, and I was hoping to dress specifically for that sense of subtlety that this season has.

Koi are generally a far more summery motif, but because the background color of the fabric is black, it helps make this particular piece a little more versatile. Though it is not so obvious in the photo, there are hints of blue, which is why I went with a blue han-eri on my juuban. That collar also has a wave motif which can be found amid the koi and the blue is a nice contrast which also happens to tie in with the hanao of my geta. So that the obi would not get lost amid the koi, it was Ann's idea to add the dark blue-black silk obi-age. Strictly speaking, this particular bow doesn't need the obi-age as it's usually used to cover an obi-makura, but in this case it helps to bring the hints of blue that I'd added to the middle of the ensemble.

I felt very good about how everything came together, but I felt even more accomplished when Arlene of Nichi Bei fluttered her hands and said that she loved the look because it was, "Just so springy." Those are the sort of words that are serious confidence-boosters-- affirmation that the effect has been pulled off just as hoped. Happy spring, everyone.