Thursday, August 12, 2010

Clothes Make the Chajin

Last time I talked a little bit about wearing kimonos in general; this time I thought I’d say something about how they affect making tea.

Tea ceremony was designed to be done in kimono, primarily because that was everyday wear for the people who developed it. The arm positions are all done with kimono sleeves in mind; the silk wiping cloth is hung from the obi (the cloth that goes around the waist); the sitting, standing, and walking movements are all kimono-centric.

Wearing a kimono can be tough to get used to. The first time I ever wore one, I basically stood there and tried to stay out of the way while I got dressed like a Barbie doll. The first thing you feel is how restrictive it is around the midsection – if you’re a woman, that is. You have two layers of underwear and a kimono on top of that, and each layer is held closed with at least one tie around the waist, and then you have the obi, which is a long piece of heavy cloth that’s wrapped twice around your body and reinforced with a thin piece of cardboard. It’s not meant to be tight like a corset, but if it’s not snug then things are going to start coming apart. And with all those layers, there’s pretty much no chance of bending at the waist. And because the bottom is wrapped closely around you, you’re limited to fairly small steps.

So the range of movement options that you have in a kimono is pretty limited. You can sit (on a chair or in seiza, kneeling on the floor), you can stand, walk (not run, jump, or take huge steps up or down), move your arms, and lean forward and back.

The consequence of all this is that when you’re wearing a kimono, everything about the way you move changes. You walk in a different way, you handle things in a different way, you sit in a different way. If you’re new to kimonos, probably everything is going to feel a lot more awkward and restricted, and it’ll be a relief to be back in your “normal” clothes again. But I’ve found that wearing a kimono, particularly combined with practicing tea, when I’m thinking about my movements anyhow, changes my mental attitude completely. I do everything more purposefully and carefully, and I tend to focus more on what I’m doing, particularly in the tea room. I’m sure a lot of that is psychological – kimonos, in my brain, equal tea – but I think a lot of it is the kimono, also. By learning to become comfortable within the restrictions, you learn to express yourself more fully through the outlet you have. Not unlike tea ceremony itself!

No comments: