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The Art of Kimono

A study in silk of the Japanese culture.

November 5, 2009
Cindy Schumacher

“The winds of fashion and dance blow more gently in the domain of the kimono,” wrote Lisa Dalby in her book, Kimono, Fashioning Culture. Lydia Sizemore couldn’t agree more. Sizemore’s family lives in Kīhei while she is living in Virginia and performing in the Washington, D.C. area with a Japanese dance group.

“As a child, I discovered and became attracted to the kimono,” she said. Seriously researching them piqued her interest, and after that, “there was no going back!”

After a summer trip to Japan in her high school years, Sizemore’s love of Japanese culture and kimono grew to include an interest in dance. The classical Japanese dance she performs is called Nihon Buyo. It is performed onstage with movements taken from Kabuki and Noh theater, with some elements of folk dance.

Article Photos

Maui resident Mina Suzuki performed with her class in the Osarae-Kai Dance Revue.
Photo: Cindy Schumacher

“The movements in Japanese dance are based on the motions of everyday life in kimono,” she said. Dancers interact with their outfits a great deal, using sleeves in different ways, manipulating the skirt overlap, and tucking a fan or other props into the obi when it’s not in use. “A kimono ensemble isn’t just clothing; it’s a necessary part of the dance,” she said. “I’ve tried practicing in western clothes, but it felt so sloppy and uncontrolled. Plus, I had no place to put my fan!”

Sizemore feels elegant and ladylike while wearing a kimono.

“A properly tailored kimono is comfortable and visually slimming,” she said. She has to take smaller steps and keep her knees close together to keep from pulling the skirt open, and must be careful what she does with her arms.

“If I move carelessly, my sleeve might get caught on a door handle or dragged through a plate of food,” she said. Good posture is essential to keep things from sliding out of place or getting rumpled.

“There is a new self a woman may not be fully conscious of possessing until she wears a kimono,” Sizemore said.

Yet, many women know neither the proper way to dress in kimono nor the traditional culture associated with it. For this very reason, in October 1969, Takayoshi Mizushima created the Hakubi Kyoto Kimono School in Japan. He has also sponsored the University of Hawai‘i’s Laboratory School Kimono Culture program.

The Hakubi School has traveled around the world for the past 40 years making kimono presentations to promote friendship and cultural exchange, and to provide fundraising events.

“The flowing kimono embodies the essence of the people of Japan and its ages-old culture,” said Mizushima. He has sought to preserve the proper wearing of kimono as a national costume, and feels strongly that kimono should also be introduced abroad as a cultural property to be appreciated.

In August, the school held its 40th Annual Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in Honolulu. The Hakubi members paid respect to the veterans and their families interred at the cemetery. Many distinguished guests were present, including Gov. Linda Lingle, U.S. military and other government officials.

“The mission of the Hakubi school group,” said Mizushima, “is to promote peace, goodwill and the development of international understanding through their love of the kimono.”

Here on Maui, Ken Tasaka teaches and performs Japanese Folk Dancing at the Wailuku Jodo Mission. On Saturday, Oct. 24, the Maui Okinawa Cultural Center hosted her annual Osarae-Kai Dance Revue. The Nakayama Minyo-Kai club, which includes women and men of every age, presented 23 dances. In each one, a spectacular range of kimono color and design contrasted with the serenity and precision of the dance movements. One of the performers said, “To understand the role of the kimono in dance and culture, one must delve further to understand Japanese values, respect and appreciation for the environment.”

Norio Yamanaka, author of The Book of Kimono, wrote, “It is possible to speak of the true form of a kimono only after it has been put on a human body… It is the wearer who, according to his proficiency, creates the form. Those who would make the beauty of the kimono their own must first make their own spirit and character a thing of beauty.”



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