kimono8My love affair with Kimono started about 7 years ago.

I used to belong to a local Japanese Chado (Way of Tea) circle. Although I knew NOTHING about Chado when I started, I was fascinated and truly loved the way of tea. Almost every lesson, I wanted to gush how beautiful everything was – flowers (supposed to be simple, not gaudy), Chawan (my Sensei had an exquisite collection of tea bowls), sweets (students often brought real traditional sweets from Japan, or we made them ourselves), and of course, Kimonos.

I have heard the real tea ceremony classes in Japan usually costs hundreds of dollars per month to take, and there are strict rules and traditions to follow. My Sensei, although she was a strict teacher when it comes to Chado and manners- she was very relaxed about some of the stuffy rules, and she allowed us to come to practice in regular clothes.

However, when we had the actual tea ceremony, we were required to wear kimono. It is true that in this modern day, not many people, myself included, are not familiar with kimono at all, and don’t even know how to put it on. On my first tea ceremony, I think I borrowed a kimono from a fellow tea circle member. Sensei helped me put it on. It is around this time my fascination with Kimono started. I’ve always loved it, even when I was growing up in Japan, but something about being in a different country make me appreciate it even more these days.

I always looked forward to a tea ceremony as I get to see everybody else’s kimonos. Eventually, my sensei brought me one on one of her frequent trips back to Japan. I’ve also managed to bring one kimono back to Victoria that belonged to my grandmother.

I had to quit my tea circle when I had my second child. I still see sensei and other members time to time in Japanese-culture related events. But my kimonos sat in my drawers for well over 3 years.

Last month, the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNCS), where I sit on the board, celebrated its 20th anniversary. The ticket to the banquet said “Yukatas and Kimonos Welcome” as its dress code.  (Yukata is a casual version of the kimono and usually worn in summertime.)

I thought about my kimonos that’s been sitting in my drawers. Last time I wore kimono was at Hope Love Japan fundraiser we had right after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami back in 2011.

I wanted to wear my kimono again. But I don’t know how to. What to do?

I love how opportunity presents itself when needed.
One day, I was at this social event put by VNCS and happened to talk to this lady who is also interested in kimono. She told me about this Japanese lady in Victoria who teaches how to wear kimono(Kitsuke). Immediately I asked for her contact information, and this is how I met Hitomi Harama.

Hitomi and I exchanged several emails and she agreed to help me on the day of the anniversary dinner. My friend Daniela who owns Silk Road, was receiving an honorary recognition at the banquet and she was also wearing kimono, so three of us got together at Silk Road before the banquet. Here’s the photo from that day.

Hitomi Harama

I LOVED what Hitomi was wearing that day. Isn’t it absolutely stunning?

Hitomi is the curator of Kimono: Japanese Culture in its Art Form, an exhibit currently on at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria until October. She and I had coffee the other day to talk more about her exhibit and of course, kimonos.
Hitomi’s family owns a kimono business in Nagoya, Japan, so obviously she has a keen eye for them. Kimono world is so vast and deep, which is one of the reasons I love learning about it. For example, there is a rule on as to what type of kimono is acceptable for certain occasions. If you are a family member of a bride, you are to wear Kuro Tomesode, (pictured below) in black with family crests.  Also, you are to coordinate your kimono with patterns and motifs in a season a little ahead. In June you might wear something with lighter fabric and perhaps with water motifs. In late summer you might wear something with Japanese maple, and so on. Unless you grew up in a situation like Hitomi, it is not easy to understand well the world of Kimono. I am still very much a beginner, and I have so much to learn, but it is so great to have someone like her where I can ask anything.

The AGGV is also showing From Geisha to Diva: The Kimono of Ichimaru. Ichimaru was a very well known Geisha who passed away in 1997. The world of Geisha is also something I find extremely fascinating, too. You can see an Ichimaru’s extravagant kimono collection as well as some artifacts that belonged to her. These black kimonos with design only at the hem are called Kuro-Tomesode and it’s a formal wear equivalent to Western evening dress.

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What looks like dots in the photo above  on the shoulders and back of the collar are family crest called Mon.

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Ichimaru’s kimonos and her musical instruments. A geisha is a high class entertainer and they practice dance, singing and also different musical instruments. Ichimaru was discovered while working as a popular Geisha, and eventually became a superstar on radio, TV and films. This one below with peacocks was my favourite.

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And then in the Founders Gallery you will see Kimono: Japanese Culture in its Art Form. These are traditional wedding kimonos.

This one with a flower cart dyed in Kaga Yuzen style is so beautiful. This is also Kuro Tomesode and this belongs to Hitomi’s mother.

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Hitomi works as a kimono teacher and consultant, educating people about kimonos and its history. She also rents her collection out for people who wish to wear kimono but don’t own one. We are talking about “lesson and lunch” (or dinner) classes where everyone gets to learn how to wear kimono and we’d all go out for a nice meal. If any of you are interested, please let me know. You can check out her website here.

There will be a curator’s tour on Thursday, July 10th at 7pm and I plan to be there.

Both exhibit continues until October 19. For more information, check the AGGV website.