Kayarath’s Adventures In Kimono

Posted on May 22 2014

Kayarath's Adventures In Kimono

The kimono is one of the most distinctive items of Japanese culture. It’s something we all know about yet don’t really know at the same time. The opportunity to study this subject is rare at best. Those who attended Zenkaikon 2014 had such an opportunity because they got Kuniko Kanawa, certified Kimono expert, as a guest this year. I had the honor to interview her. Allow me to present it to you…

Kayarath: Please introduce yourself and describe what you do.

Kuniko Kanawa: My Name is Kuniko Kanawa. I am a certified Kimono consultant, Kimono model, and Edo Tsumami Kanzashi artisan. Edo Tsumami Kanzashi is the Japanese traditional handicraft which is designated by the city of Tokyo and Chiba, which is designated by the government. There are many things that I do relating to traditional Japanese culture.

And here she is!

And here she is!

K: That’s a lot! What lead you to take this path of promoting traditional Japanese culture?

KK: As a Japanese living in a foreign country, that put me in the circumstance to deeply think of the beauty of traditional Japanese culture. That kind of led me to want to preserve the traditional Japanese culture because there are not many young people preserving the traditional Japanese culture as we (Japan) are very westernized, which is not a bad thing. However, I live in the United States where it’s very multicultural. There are many Americans and immigrants appreciating the traditional Japanese culture so they, in some way, help me realize how beautiful traditional Japanese culture is.

I had to consider either selecting that way of my life or going another way. A while ago I was pursuing classical singing, which was opera, but opera can be preserved by Western people. It does not have to be preserved by me, a Japanese person. But traditional Japanese culture has to be preserved by the Japanese people. So somehow my life, the way of my life shifted from pursuing classical music singing to preserving traditional Japanese culture. By the time I noticed, it was like I was lead by my ancestors as well, so it was not just me. But if there wasn’t any path our ancestors made, I probably could not pursue it this much.

K: Being a certified Kimono consultant must be a difficult thing to get. The testing for it must be hard.

KK: There are parts that are difficult. It’s a very difficult study and it’s a lifetime study because kimono (wearing/modeling) is something that comes with many rules and customs, depending on the different seasons. The materials are different; the motifs are different, etc. There are so many things to learn and know when it comes to actually wearing it. I would say it is a difficult study, but as long as you’re very enthusiastic about it, you’ll just have to keep pursuing it. Maybe for some people, learning about anime could be very difficult because there are so many anime and so many voice actors. You could be very manic about it because you are very enthusiastic, very passionate about it. So it’s the same thing for being a certified Kimono consultant too, I guess. As long as you are very passionate about it, I wouldn’t say it’s too difficult.

K: Passion is always very important, isn’t it?

KK: Yes. I believe so.

K: You were talking about how symbolic kimonos are. Isn’t there basically a rule for every single detail, like which side you wear over the other, or how you tie it, or your hair, or how long your sleeves are. Is there a rule for everything? It seems like it.

KK: You have to pay attention to every detail like what season you are in. For example, this is April, so in terms of the color I selected the fresh green because now the beautiful spring is starting and the leaves are coming out. So about the colors and patterns; this one is a plain colored kimono, so it doesn’t have patterns that you can actually see, but if I am to wear the pattern, the kimono I probably will choose is a cherry blossom pattern because it is the season of cherry blossoms. For spring, autumn, and winter, you need a lining. On the other hand, if you wear the kimono in the summertime then there’s no lining. The types of accessories that come together with kimono; the types of shoes, types of socks, everything. You have to pay attention to these things. You have to pay attention to everything at the same time so that it will come together in a very artistic way and a very appropriate way by our custom.

Kimonos makes everything better!

Kimonos makes everything better!

K: It really does come together in a way that’s very appealing. Why do you think kimonos have such appeal and are alluring. Why are they so pretty?

KK: That is a great question? Why do you think they are pretty? I ask you.

K: It’s always strange because kimonos is one of those things that cover the entire body but women still look very pretty wearing them.

KK: I’ll tell you the answer. While there are many people who love kimono because of the simply beautiful pattern or how we’re very in touch with nature. As you can see, the many patterns of kimono are from nature; like flowers, leaves, oceans, clouds. At the same time, because we are in touch with nature we use natural objects and patterns, but it’s not only because of that. Your behavior that comes together when you are dressed in Kimono. For example, when I would pick up your phone, this is the movement that I would do (picks up phone gracefully). I don’t just grab (snatches phone) like that. And how you walk, how you sit down, how you stand up, how you bow; every movement becomes very graceful, if you learn very well (the appropriate way to act).

If you are just dressed today and if you walk around like that, of course you would not look beautiful and you would not look graceful. There are certain behaviors that supposed to come with kimono like how to sit down. Therefore people think ladies and gentlemen dressed in kimono look very attractive and very lovely. So the behavior when it comes to wearing kimono is very appealing. That would be my answer.

K: I never thought of it that way honestly.

Five kimono wearers in perfect WA with each other.

Five kimono wearers in perfect WA with each other.

KK: I would like to mention one more thing. The most important thing about wearing kimono is the culture, the culture of harmony. Actually we use a character (draws a kanji) or a kanji, WA.

K: Can you write it down?

KK: Sure (writes it down on a piece of paper). The culture of WA, it is read as WA. This means traditional Japanese culture, Japanese style, and also it means “harmony”. When we wear kimono, we consider harmonizing with natural objects, seasons, and use materials like silk, cotton, and hemp. And not only harmonizing with nature, but you harmonize with the social surrounding as well. For example, I am visiting you for an official interview, so I wanted to look really elegant, rather then wearing a lower rank kimono; there are ranks of kimono as well. You could be wearing casual kimono, semi casual, semi formal, formal, to very highest formal. This is a semi formal kimono so I was considerate about how I would present myself, what you would think, and how I thought that you would be happy by my appearance; to show you the respect. It’s the harmony of the social surrounding as well. You think about the occasions. That could be another major reason why kimono is so appealing and it looks so beautiful for many people.

K: Do you have any advice for any would be kimono wearers out there? If people wanted to get into kimono wearing, is there any advice you would like to give them; any pointers?

KK: You can always start from yukata which is the summer, very casual kimono that supposed to be worn after bathing and also for festivals. Places like here at Zenkaikon; and during the summer time it could be worn as well. So start with the very basic fundamental Kimono. Ideally it’s best if they can take my class so that I can basically show them the effective way to dress themselves. If that’s not possible then they can always visit Youtube and try to learn for themselves.

K: Another way would be to join the D.C. Kimono club, which you founded I believe.

KK: Yes.

K: Tell me more about it.

KK: That is a very fine club. We have a lot of members attending. It’s not like I can have the event going on every month as I am busy with my business as well, but occasionally we gather and visit Japanese gardens and have sushi or eat dinner together and you know, have a laugh and talk about traditional Japanese culture. That kind of event. I also use our members as kimono models when I perform the kimono fashion show and dress demonstration. That is quite a remarkable club formed with many members who are really into the traditional Japanese culture; especially the kimono.

I know you can't see the handicraft but it's very pretty.

I know you can’t see the handicraft but it’s very pretty.

K: Of course there’s more to it then kimonos. Can you tell me about these lovely objects you have with you?

KK: Sure! As a Edo Tsumami Kanzashi artisan I make traditional style handicrafts as well as modern style items because if artisans make only the traditional style, the art form will not survive as not many Japanese ladies are wearing their hair in a traditional way. So, with those, for example, I have a lot of cherry blossoms today because we had the cherry blossom festival. April is the month of cherry blossoms so here is an alligator clip hair. People can be wearing cosplay and still wear this on their lovely hair. This is another alligator clip, this is a long stick, so you can have a bun. That’s a dangling, people love the dangling petal string because they can look like a little geisha. This is a bobby pin, this is a small version, this is a large version. I have broaches as well. I make jewelry as well, such as broaches, rings, earrings, pendant necklaces; things besides hair ornaments. This is how the art form can survive as there are not many artisans today so I just try to make as many things as possible so that people will know about this even though many people have short hair. For gentlemen, I make a lapel pin or a necktie pin; and key chains. I make everything possible so I can preserve this art form.

K: What bring you to Zenkaikon? To an anime convention? I assume it’s a desire to spread traditional Japanese culture?

KK: I was invited as a guest panelist through the person that I know who is Collet. She is my kansai student at the Japan America society and she does local events, coordination, and she introduced me to the con chair, Maggie-san.

K: One more question. Where else can people go to learn more about you and traditional Japanese culture?

KK: They can definably visit my website which is http://www.atelierkanawa.com/. They can see what I do. I know it would be a little far from here (context: this interview is taking place in Southeastern Pennsylvania but Kuniko Kanawa lives near Washington D.C.), but if they’re interested in I have workshops and kimono classes. I dress people in kimono and take professional photos as well. Everything is on my website so they can find me and and things they want to do.

K: Thank you so much. It’s been an honor and pleasure to interview you.

KK: Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed it. If you want to see Kuniko Kanawa in action, you can check out her website, join the D.C. Kimono club, or maybe even request her as a guest for your local convention! She’ll do a live kimono presentation and maybe bring about the spirit of WA to your con floor.

You Might Also Like...

  • You must be logged in to comment. Log in