It was hard not to be transported back to ancient Edo (although edicts of the time would have made it illegal for me, as a foreigner, to reside in Japan during Sakoku – its 200 year long ‘closed country’ policy). There was over familiar tugging and pulling as my personal dresser put on the fifth and final layer of the kimono. The women around me discussed the types of flowers on the long flowing silken sleeves. Tree peonies, cherry blossoms (bien sur) and a final one they could not identify. I was informed I should walk like a lily. That is, with my feet pointed inwards at 45 degree angles. The language was flowery. I had some minor misgivings, wondering if me dressing in traditional Japanese clothes for the students’ graduation effectively amounted to cultural appropriation.
I reassured myself by remembering I was in my current situation at the insistence of my Japanese superior. I have to admit the effect was breathtaking. Quite literally, as the fitter fastened the obi (big bow around my sternum).
With every new layer, every knot, I became less myself and yet simultaneously more comfortable in my skin. Perhaps my insecurities were being bound down, crushed beneath decadent materials, subdued by string.
In the end, I became neither Japanese or British. I’m not sure I would feel comfortable doing it again. But I’d like to lock away the curiously calm, detached sensation being dressed in a kimono evoked in me.