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Speech on Kazumi-style Kimono

~ Wearing Kimono is Exploring Yourself ~

Kazumi Tsuda: Talk at Evening Forum, Ninomiya House, May 21, 2010

Good evening, everyone.

Thank you for inviting me to the Evening Forum at Ninomiya House. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to talk about my work to researchers and their families in Tsukuba Science City, where scientists from all over the world come to pursue their studies and research.

My talk tonight will last for just less than an hour, and it will fall roughly into two parts. In the first part I will speak on why it is that dressing in a kimono can lead to self-discovery. In the second part, I will address the question of how you put a kimono on, something that many Japanese people also wonder about, and I will actually show the process involved.

First of all, though, let me tell you a little about myself. The job title you will see on my name cards is "kimono lifestyle consultant". In addition, I am a "researcher of solitude" - I study the issue of how important it is for one's psychological development and peace of mind to spend time alone; and I am also a commentator and critic on modern Japanese tanka and haiku poetry. I wear a kimono 365 days a year: and in that respect I am something of an endangered species in Japan. But the truth is that my activities are aimed largely at preventing people like myself from becoming extinct. They are aimed at showing, mainly to Japanese people, but also to people from overseas, the pleasures of wearing the kimono, and at getting them to include the kimono as one of the many kinds of clothing they have in their wardrobe and wear casually every day.

In my former business career, I worked as an executive recruiter, and as a human resources strategy consultant. My work took me back and forth between the United States and Japan, and every day was a mad rush, filled with appointments and tasks I had to fulfil. At that time I had absolutely no interest in the kimono. It seemed to me to be clothing that prevented an active life, and also to be uneconomical. Nevertheless, whenever I went to parties on my overseas trips I would see people who had changed out of their ordinary day-time business suits wearing the ethnic dress of their countries, and I would think how wonderfully appealing they looked. But that doesn't mean that I ever imagined that I would end up doing what I now do. I carried on leading my pressure-filled business life for a number of years, and ended up thoroughly exhausting myself, both spiritually and physically, doing high-level brainwork, involved in negotiations that required definite results. In the end I had to give up the work entirely, and found myself sinking into the depths of melancholy. Needless to say, I had to give some thought to how I was going to keep going financially.

As I went through this melancholy time, I nevertheless still had some curiosity, despite my various problems, about what makes people tick, and so I eventually decided that I would go and pursue a course of study at graduate school. This is slightly off the main subject, but as a child ever since the age of three I always felt uneasy, somehow not myself, when I was amongst crowds of people. These sorts of feelings led me to write a master's thesis on the topic of the positive aspects of solitude, or time spent just entirely in one's own company (in Japanese, hitori no jikan). I have been invited here again, at a later date, to talk on this topic of solitude, so I will leave more detailed discussion for another time. For now I would just say that this research gave me the firm conviction that in order not to lose sight of one's true self, it is essential for a person to have some time, even if it is only a few minutes, spent entirely in one's own company every day.

For busy people like yourselves, it is probably impossible to imagine taking time out of the day to spend entirely alone. But just take for example the time spent dressing. It takes a lot more time to put on a kimono than it does to slip on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. What's more, as one dresses, one has to face oneself in the mirror for minutes or even hours on end. It might strike you as a very odd observation to make, but for me, putting on my kimono provides me with a precious stretch of time that I can use to face myself and get all my thoughts and ideas into precise order. Dressing myself in a kimono, which is quite different from putting on Western clothes, is actually one very effective way of expressing my idea of "solitude" as a lifestyle, that is to say a particular way of living life that involves incorporating moments spent entirely by and for myself. This is why when I refer in Japanese to dressing oneself in a kimono, I use the Japanese word matou, which means to "wrap" oneself in an item of clothing, which I consider to be more appropriate than the more usual verb kiru, which is the generic verb for "to dress" or "to wear". The kimono gives one a different kind of sensation to the sensation one has when wearing western clothes. It is the sensation of utter security, of having one's five senses enfolded and supported, leading to a feeling of both reassurance and comfort.

Now, before I show you how exactly you put a kimono on, you should know that generally speaking, for a woman, the kimono is made up of roughly 12 meters of straight cloth, which is divided into eight pieces. For women, because any excess length of the kimono is folded over here, in this part [patting the waist], referred to in Japanese as o-hashori, it is possible to adjust the length to fit any person, regardless of any differences in height. The obi, or sash, likewise is a single length of cloth, which is tied in a knot. But in the "Kazumi school", or "Kazumi style", we like to give instructions in as rational a manner as possible, so I divide the obi into three separate parts. Doing this enabled me today to get dressed in my kimono in less than ten minutes. Needless to say, ten years ago I couldn't dress myself up in a kimono at all well, even if I had two hours to do it in.

The kimono only became the sophisticated form of dress we know now in the Edo period, which lasted from the early seventeenth century to the mid to late nineteenth century. During the Edo period, people had a very strong awareness of mottainai, or the necessity of not wasting anything if it could possibly be avoided, and so the kimono would be re-cycled in all sorts of different ways, a practice that lasted until only a few decades ago. A kimono that was no longer worn as a kimono, for example, could be made into a futon, or coverlet or mattress, and then as a zabuton, or cushion, after which it might be used as o-mutsu, or a baby's diaper, or as a zokin, or dust rag; and when it really became threadbare it could be torn up and used as the cloth strips attached to a pole that make up a hataki, or dusting mop. After that it would be returned to the earth where it would rot and return to its original elements. So in this sense the kimono was a truly ecological form of dress.

I would now like to show you the various layers of garments that make up the kimono. Would the model please now come forward? Women wearing a kimono should first put on a bra that is suitable for the kimono, and undergarments. Over those, they then wear a juban, which is another undergarment, rather like a slip. On the neckband of this juban there is this han-eri or half collar, which is actually sewn on and can thus be taken off. In the old days, the colour of this collar would denote the age, the status of the wearer, as well as whether she was married or unmarried. The sleeves would also differ in length, depending on whether the wearer was married or unmarried. In addition, the amount of opening showing between the back of the neck and the collar would also say all sorts of things about the wearer of the kimono. A woman in the night-time entertainment business, for example, would have this part at the back of the neck open quite a bit, showing a considerable amount of her neck. The way the obi was tied, the particular knot that was used, the angle and height at which it was positioned and various other subtle elements, also told a lot about the wearer. So the kimono was really a kind of non-verbal communication tool. But sadly, nowadays, fewer and fewer people have the knowledge necessary to decode these signs, and all that people remember is that there are all sorts of rules and fixed practices. Many Japanese people feel bored and oppressed by this, with the result that they no longer feel like wearing the kimono.

[kimono and obi demonstration]

I would like to thank you all for listening to me give my talk in my clumsy English. You will find a lot of photographs of kimono and explanations in English on my website, so do please take a look at it. In addition, I believe we are going to have a party after this, and I hope you will feel free to ask me any further questions you may have during that time.

It is my hope to increase the number of people, be it even by the very smallest number, who will try wearing the kimono, exploring their inner selves, and expanding the margins in their minds, and that by doing this we will all be able to contribute to a better, more peaceful world.

Thank you.


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