The Social Life of Kimono

The Social Life of Kimono: Japanese Fashion Past and Present (Dress, Body, Culture)

When I first came to Japan in 1985, I knew extraordinarily little about the place. This was to be a month-long summer vacation trip. I never considered that I might actually stay. However, I discovered kimono and the rest is my history. I often considered myself handicapped as a kimono wearer because I have no memories of family members wearing kimono, nor have I worn kimono on Japanese ceremonial occasions when kimono is de rigueur. In addition, I have not had a kimono collection bequeathed to me by a grandmother, mother, or aunt, so I have started mine from scratch.

In other ways, I have been very privileged. Although my Japanese was negligible, the teachers in my kimono dressing school classes responded with enthusiasm to my hungry spirit. I asked more questions than all the other students put together, probably in almost incomprehensible Japanese, but they would explain with infinite patience the ways of the kimono. At that time it was a teacher who taught me about kimono. Later I realized that it was the kimono that was teaching me about Japan. The more I viewed images, looked at kimono, wore kimono, spoke to sellers and makers, the more I became aware of the depth and subtlety of the kimono and its dressing system.

At the beginning it was because of, and not in spite of, my being a tabula rasa, eager to soak up everything I could find out about kimono, that my eyes were not blinkered when something new started to happen. I was in Japan, looking, learning, exploring at the moment when the kimono renaissance began. I was trawling the book shops, kimono shops, department stores, and flea markets making discoveries by asking questions and examining fabrics and garments, so I was on the scene to witness the birth pangs of the revival.

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