Costume from the Kabuki dance, Wisteria Maiden
A friend asked me to help out at a kimono experience that was expected to attract a lot of foreigners. There were several events in Nihonbashi, the center of Tokyo, that coincided with the IMF meeting in Tokyo. The event I went to had two parts: an exhibition of Kabuki costumes and a kimono-wearing experience.
The costume exhibition was combined with two lectures (in Japanese) about costumes. There was no attempt to provide English translations, but for the exhibit, there were English handouts of the character and play associated with each costume, as well as a bit about the materials and style of the costume. An expert from a major Kabuki production company came to give a lecture (which required a paid ticket) which I did not attend. However, after the formal part of the lecture, the expert went to the exhibition room and made some remarks about the costumes. Perhaps the most impressive comment was that one of the costumes would cost 'nan-zen man' in yen to recreate. 'Nan-zen man' translates to 'hundreds of thousands of dollars!' This costume had huge hand-embroidered decorations on top of a heavy brocade robe. Part of the problem is that there are not many artisans who still know these techniques. This robe, plus the wig and sash to complete the costume, could weigh nearly 100 pounds. There were three heavily embroidered robes that were worn by main characters. There were also three kimonos worn by the 'maids' that had dramatic dyed patterns of phoenix feathers in bright, neon-like colors. But the experts said these were 'plain' in comparison to the embroidered kimonos.
Kimonos and sashes
The kimono experience was run by Sasajima Sensei, a teacher of kimono wearing. (Maybe you didn't know there were teachers of kimono wearing.) For no charge, visitors could select a kimono and sash and other accessories. Then, a flock of able assistants would flutter around, helping in the process of layering of robes, tying of various cords and sashes, and adjusting every fold to perfection. For women, there were the trailing sleeves usually worn by younger women as the flashiest fashion, as well as the shorter-sleeve version worn by others. These were in beautiful brocades, hand-dyed, some were hand painted, some woven with gold thread, with patterns ranging from flowers and seasonal themes to abstract patterns. For men, the only choice was the black kimono worn with hakama trousers for a formal occasion like a wedding. I am pretty sure these were all genuine silk, so the prices for these outfits would certainly be in the 1000s of dollars, many of them more than 10,000. Once all the fussing was over, the visitors could stroll around the lobby and have photos taken in front of a gold screen and red umbrella. One visitor wore her kimono to an IMF meeting, and some were able to enjoy rickshaw rides (another part of the series of events) showing off their finery.
There were no cross-dressing requests, but some of the physical types presented a bit of a challenge. A tall black woman--a body type similar to, say, Michele Obama--asked if pregnant women could do this (the obi sash is often pulled very tight for the most fashionable look). Sasajima Sensei took on the challenge, with assurances that she could adjust everything to avoid obstetrical problems. The visitor chose a light aquatic sky blue that presented a beautiful contrast with her ebony color. Another challenge was a young girl who was about six or eight years old. An adult kimono was tailored by a quick basting--no cutting-- that turned out very well.
The event was available for three days. The first day, there were only a few takers. Then, word began to spread, and the numbers picked up. On Saturday, the last day, the kimono ladies were rushing practically all day. There were only three men who tried it, but probably 30 or 40 women. It was a great opportunity to enjoy the high-quality artisanal experience that would normally require a considerable charge (for example, renting a kimono for a wedding or something).
(Yamada-san admires a Kabuki costume while displaying her own fancy obi bow)