3 layers of robes, 6 belts, suffering-succotash my feet won't fit in those slippers, and 4 hours of trying not to take normal breaths. I haven't seen the movie with Zhang Ziyi (not Ziyi Zhang as those idiots in American entertainment tv call her), Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li et al; although the book was quite good and very entertaining. However, I can empathize, for Saturday afternoon, I had my brush with geisha-hood.
A group merienda at Kai was hosted by my food society in honor of the 50th anniversary of Japan-Philippines relations (a bit unassuming considering how much of an impact Japan has had on our history. And 50?! Who's bright idea was it to whitewash the real ties between our countries? But I digress.). A Japanese tea ceremony and a kaiseki menu was conjured up, and our generous Japanese contacts were kind enough to share tidbits of their culture with us (games, demonstrating the tea ceremony and telling us where to get little giveaways etc). One part of their generosity lay in lending us lovely kimonos, for the 5 committee members. A part of me wanted to ask the other committee members "When did the organizers ever have to dress up?" but I squelched my orneriness and went along with it.
To be frank, I was a bit worried. I'm not sylphlike. My bones are nothing like a china doll, and my feet are never going to be ready for a Cinderella glass slipper. My Chinese grandmother's peasant stock is in full bloom with me. But the other ladies on the committee said they'd already made arrangements with our clothes so nothing to be worried about. Ok.
I arrive early on Saturday, and am rushed into the dressing process by our kimono expert, who natters on with our primary Japanese host, in Japanese of course, about the kimono I should wear. I'm pretty sure they are bemoaning how I am to fit into any of the pieces, and during the course of my fitting, which takes longer than anyone else's, the running mental curse goes through me that I need to get back to my exercise regiment soon. The first robe I tried was a lovely purple piece but that proved to be a bit small. So I was given a dark blue with exotic orchids on them. After putting on the first layer of undergarments and then the robe, I was given my first taste of how hard it would be to breathe. The first belt was a thin rope to hold the skirt and top coat together - OUCH. I felt my stomach fat cells looking for new spaces to squeeze into. Then I tried on the kimono. It may look comfortable with it's gorgeous square sleeves and long flowing skirt, but believe me when I say that if you're not used to a corset and girdle, plus a backbrace all at the same time, then you won't find yourself too keen on the kimono. The belts, one on top of the other, pulling my gut, back and ribs together into one flat package. By the time the two teachers had me boxed up, I had a lovely golden green obi with these shimmery golden knots tied on the top and in the middle. I do love the box knot they use in the back, so elegant and puffy (and easy to destroy if you're not watching where you sit). It took me most of the 4 hours wearing it through the meal before I found a semi-comfortable breathing pattern (in my upper chest cavity rather than in my abdomen as my wont), plus I'd do a few plonks on the bullet-proof like obi when I got bored with proceedings. Maybe Japanese drummers should use the obi as a percussion instrument, it's got a nice thump to it.
I won't even go into the lows of trying to find a sandal that would fit. None of them did. So I ended up with my Happy Feet sandals instead. Heck it's got a wooden sole! And the flower pattern fit my robe. At least only one part of my body was feeling crushed.
Mindless of all my whining, I would highly encourage anyone who gets a chance to wear a kimono to do so. There's something about wearing a national costume of another culture that transforms you. I've worn chinese robes, American western wear, Thai and Vietnamese robes. Now I'll add the kimono to my list and look forward to another opportunity for international cultural advancement soon.