Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bon Odori

Obon Odori, for those of you unfamiliar with the festival, is most easily likened to Dia de los Muertos celebrations. It is a time of remembrance and reflection; a time to honor those who have passed. Rather than mourning, it is a time to celebrate, dancing in joy at the memories we cherish.

Three years ago, after my grandfather's passing, I decided that I would dance at Obon, not just that year, but every year. I'm not sure that he would have understood my decision, even if I were able to explain, but this sort of remembrance is for the living. This year, I am dancing for a very dear friend who I think would have understood, and would have certainly loved the parade of colorful yukata and kimono that is always on display for the dancing.

My grandfather and me, taken in 2009 on one of my trips back to the East Coast.
Fran was a dear and wonderful friend to my family. She had a passion for many things, including textiles, so I wore yukata for one of my visits with her.
I had participated as a dancer in the festival several years previous to making this promise to myself; not to dance for anyone in particular, but simply to say that I had. Before that, I had been content to play the spectator, not really understanding just what had brought all of these people together.

I worried that keeping my promise would be difficult. I worried because I felt myself to be very much an outsider to this community. I worried because it seemed to me that everyone already knew all the dances and was using this as a chance to socialize. I certainly didn't know the names of anyone save perhaps one or two people, and even then, only in passing. After the first few practices, though, I realized that what I had stepped into was a very open and inviting community (Buddhists, as a friend pointed out to me, tend to be like that).

The next year, I knew more people; I had a group that I could walk to practice with, and be able to learn and dance with. Not only that, but I was recognized by others because of my various forays into Nihonmachi while in kimono. The highest compliment, of course, was having someone come up to me and say 'I remember you from last year. You look like you know what you're doing so I'm going to follow you.'

This year, the dances are familiar to me. The music plays and the steps come back easily, despite the intervening year. More faces are familiar, but there are just as many new faces who appreciate the welcoming smile that I can feel confident in offering now. Somewhere, somehow in this stretch of time, I have become part of a community. Keeping my promise will not be difficult.

Yukata worn for Saturday's dancing at Obon 2012, the year my grandfather passed. It happens to be the same one I wore to visit with Fran in the earlier photo.
For three years, I have been struggling to write this post. From the beginning, I wanted to do justice to the festival and to the community that has welcomed me. I wanted to talk about the origins of the dance in the Buddhist tradition, the dances themselves, as well as the more secular aspects of the festival-- carnival-style games and food.

Of course, I wanted to talk about yukata, especially as the light summer garment is very much a part of the identity of the festival. It's not required to dress in yukata to participate though it is encouraged and if one is unsure of how to dress properly, there are volunteers to help. There is no denying that the sight of so many colorful patterns lend a festive air to the proceedings.

Yet I struggled for three years because to talk of any of the more secular aspects without their proper grounding in the heart of the festival would have been a disservice to the whole occasion. To only talk about my own reasons for dancing would not be giving proper respect to all those who dance, have danced, and dance no more. For three years, there did not seem to be a way to write down everything I wanted to share about this time of year.

After much contemplation on how to do this properly, I found myself at the beginning; that this is a celebration of remembrance. The dance is opened and closed with Gassho: The meeting of opposites, the symbol of Dharma- the truth of life. Having acknowledged this balance, I hope that this will be only the first of several posts about Obon, which has become one of the touchstones of the circle of my year.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crafting: Susoyoke

Rather than explain why I haven't been writing anything over here, because there are many reasons, and none of them really matter so much as the fact that I am here now and have something to share. Today's offering is some notes on crafting susoyoke.

Susoyoke is a half-slip that is worn under kimono. Traditionally, it helps to preserve the kimono by creating a barrier between it and your skin. This is how I use mine as well, but when I am dressing, I will choose a susoyoke if I am wearing a kimono that does not give me as much overlap in front as I might like so that I might preserve some sense of modesty and still present a neat appearance.

The undergarment that I outline here is a bit longer than more traditional garments of this style because I wrap and tie mine at the bust-line (I find this VERY useful in helping me keep my hadajuban collar in place). Normally, these would be wrapped and tucked at the waist like a regular slip.

My initial notes-- I couldn't recall the name 'susoyke' though I knew that the garment I was attempting DID have a proper name. The measurements are based off of one that I found at a sale benefiting the Yu Ai Kai.
 When I found my first slip, I realized that it would be a garment that I'd get a lot of use out of, and simple enough that I could easily make some for myself. It's a fun way to use smaller amounts of fabric that are too dear to pass along but not large enough for massive projects.

 The basic shape is a rectangle (mine was 50" x 43"), and the only fussy sewing is a rolled hem and applying the bias-binding for ties. Because it's a rectangle and the direction the pattern was printed as it was, I was able to cut and piece so that my sides were on the selvage of the fabric and needed no finishing. I started out with about two yards of a 42" fabric, and I still have some left over that I might use to make some other kimono-related undergarments.
The fabric that I was working with was directional, in a traditional but fun motif which makes it really nice for this project.

Finished, with bias-binding ties.
I think I used an entire pack of double-fold bias-binding for my ties, but it makes for a simple and effective finishing of the top edge. The bottom was a simple 1/4" rolled hem.

From start to finish, it took me a couple of hours, but that's partially because I had to figure out my initial measurements from the existing garment and do a little piecing so that my fabric would be wide enough to wrap around. If the pattern had been printed the other way, I wouldn't have needed to do the piecing, since an average bolt of fabric is already 42" or so wide, but I would have needed to finish each side, since they wouldn't have been on the selvage, as well as applying the bias-binding for the ties.

I have plans (and fabric) to make several more of these. While susoyoke aren't an article of clothing that is likely to be seen (and certainly not displayed), there is a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from knowing that one is well dressed from the skin out. Even when the details are hidden, or only caught in glimpses, they all add up to a pleasing presentation of the ensemble as a whole.