Friday, April 30, 2010

"'Style' Kimono Reader" - 1953 Kimono Magazine Photos

If you remember the 1953 kimono magazine I mentioned awhile back, Sutairu Kimono Tokuhon or "Style" Kimono Reader, I've taken some snapshots of the opening color pages and posted them up on Flickr. It's an interesting peek back into a different time, and what's changed and what hasn't in the kimono world.

These pages posted now all seem to be handcolored from black and white photos, and some physically pasted onto their backgrounds.

I hope to post more down the road, and translations of the captions and a couple of the articles. Ask if you have any questions, and hope you enjoy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Golden Week Shutdown

If you need to order something from an online Japanese shop, you probably should do it within the next 24 hours if you want it soon, as next week is Golden Week, when many businesses shut down for the entire week.

Golden Week is a collection of unrelated holidays: Showa Day on April 29th (reflection upon the Showa era), Constitution Memorial Day on May 3rd,  Greenery Day on May 4th (celebrating nature), and Boys' Day on May 5th. It's also one of the longest vacation periods in the calendar year, when a lot of people travel and take vacations.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Henshin Studios - Geisha For a Day

I have a sort of perverse record of never visiting or doing Famous Things You Should Do when I'm in a place. I grew up in Houston but have yet to make it to the annual Rodeo, and lived in New York/New Jersey for over two years but somehow never made it to the Statue of Liberty.

The Japan edition features me never having made it to a henshin studio in almost five years of living there, which given my fondness for kimono and geisha is pretty ironic... Allow me to explain and keep you from making this mistake yourself should you happen to be there in the future. ;)

Henshin studios are "dress up for a day" experiences, where you choose a package that usually includes getting fully dressed and made up as a maiko, geisha, or yujo (courtesan prostitute) and professional photos of you indoors and sometimes outdoors as well. Some studios also have deals where you can leave the studio and walk or go around a nearby area of the city in your costume, like the tourists shown in the photo above.

For men, there are at times samurai or "formal" dress options available as well.

The website Immortal Geisha has a nice review thread of people's experiences at various studios, offering advice, price information and some sample photos. Whenever I make it back to Japan for a visit, I'll have to finally get around to doing this myself!

Image copyright Yves Picq

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Common Motifs: Ayame - Iris

Today's theme, irises or "ayame" アヤメ、菖蒲 is in honor of the upcoming Boys' Day holiday on May 5 (Kodomo no Hi). Technically "Children's Day", it in practice honors boys in the family with carp banners, miniature samurai armor displays, and irises to encourage the strong and healthy growth and success of the family's sons. Girls have already had their day this year with the Hina Matsuri/Girls' Day Festival on March 3.

While in Japan, I was told irises are included in Boys' Day decorations as they're considered by their shape to be a more masculine flower, and so irises on textiles are typically seen as a May/early summer motif. Below are examples of irises/ayame on the back of a men's juban, a fukuro obi, women's haori, and Nagoya obi.

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kanji Beginner: Yen and Common Money Amounts

Today we have more useful characters for life and shopping...

Yen, said as "en" in Japanese, is written as 円. The way I learned this one was through a book's mnemonic device that it looked like a bank teller's window. It can also mean "round", but we'll stick with the money meaning for now.

If you remember the numbers we started learning in a previous installment, you can now say 1-3 yen. 一円、"ichi en", 二円 "ni en"、三円 "san en".

Here are common number denominations you'll see, as they correspond with Japanese bill amounts, and the pronunciation used in this case.

五=5 "go"
十=10 "juu"
百=100 "hyaku" (turn it to the left, on its side, to see a sort of 1, 0, and 0)
千= 1,000 "sen" (I see it as a "T", like "thousand")
万=10,000 "man"

Below are some cash bill or coin amounts: can you guess what they are?


Answers: juu-en (10 yen), go-juu-en (50 yen), hyaku-en (100 yen), go-hyaku-en (500 yen)

二千円 (said to be unlucky, as in America)

Answers: sen-en (1000 yen), ni-sen-en (2,000 yen), go-sen-en (5,000 yen), ichi-man-en (10,000 yen)

A quick and dirty way to convert dollars to yen is that 100 yen is about a buck, and 10,000 yen is about $100. So if the restaurant you're eyeing has dishes starting at 五万円, you might want to skip it. Or if you have that kind of money... uh... send me some? :D

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ichiroya's New Web Site

Kimono and fabric dealer Ichiroya let its customers know in its most recent newsletter that it will be updating its site design and layout as of Monday evening, Japan time.

The site has been unchanged since 2001, and they promise easier-to-search pages, larger photos, sort-by-color categories down the road, and, overall, an easier and more fun shopping experience.

My only worry is how much easier it will be for money to fly out of my pocket and into theirs. ;) I'll do a review of the new site this week once it's up and had a couple of days to get any initial bugs out.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bubble Tea

While not invented by the Japanese, bubble tea (also known as pearl or boba tea) brings back a lot of fond memories of Japan for me, as my friends and I would often hit up bubble tea stands while out for the weekend in Tokyo.

The "bubbles" are little balls of tapioca mixed in with the drink, usually either a milk tea of some kind or a smoothie. You get an extra-wide straw and eat the bubbles as you drink your drink. They're an interesting texture, and sort of addictive!

If you've never had bubble tea, try your city's Chinatown area or just keep an eye out as I've seen bubble tea sold in malls and stand-alone shops. If anyone's out here in Humble (the north edge of Houston), I recommend Tapioca Lounge for bubble tea. They're friendly, have a nice, clean shop and reasonable prices. My personal favorite is almond milk tea... yum!

Kimono Knowledge: Folding Collars

I just got home, so tonight's is a little late... doh!

Most kimono have collars that are quite wide, the reason being that you're supposed to fold them down in half when you wear them, folding to the inside to run the edge along the seam where it's attached to the kimono.

There are a few ways to keep collars folded: an older way is to sew loops of strings into the collar edges and middle. You just pull down on the loops to fold the collar over. In modern times, the same metal snaps you see on dresses and tops can be found on some kimono collars.

Once it's folded, you can also feed a thin, flat plastic strip (eri-shin) through the collar to keep it flat and neat-looking.

On more casual kimono, the collar might be made already folded, which makes your job a lot easier.

(Edit: Reader Diane points out that it is possible to find more formal kimono with pre-folded collars, as she owns a couple herself. Thanks for the info, Diane! :) )

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Basic Japanese Names

Whether you're into history, a writer or just wonder which name is the first one whenever you see a Japanese name, it can be helpful to know some of the most common ones. Here are ones I encountered frequently while living over there:

Men's First Names:
Ken, Jun, Satoshi, Takeshi, Kaoru, Nobu, Hideto, Hideaki, Akitoshi. There's a funny story behind those last two... I once taught four adult men in their own small class. We had, no BS, a Hideaki, Akitoshi, Toshiaki and Toshihide. The first day I was able to quickly and confidently pair them up using their names they gave me a round of applause. ;)

Women's First Names:
Akiko, Natsuko, Haruko, Fuyuko (all the four seasons plus "ko", or "child"), Emi, Hikari, Eri, Ai, Hisa, Sayuri, Yuki, Kaori or Kaoru (I saw both men and women with this last one).

Last Names:
Watanabe, Nakamura, Nakata, Saitou, Moritaka, Mori, Abe, Matsui.

Japanese names are traditionally written last name first, a subtle sign of the cultural notion of your group (family) being first and more important to your identity than you as the individual. In history books and at times during meetings, however, the names will be reversed if they know they're dealing with a Westerner.

It took me about six months, starting from zero familiarity, to get a good feel for what was a first name and what was a last one, and which gender it was likely to be.

If you are a writer and would like to make names for your Japanese character, please don't try awkward combinations of random words (things like Kokorohana Yoruai - "Heartflower NightLove" sound just as awkward in Japanese as they do in English) or crib names from anime/manga, where liberties are sometimes taken with names for poetic effect.

In Death Note, Light Yagami's last name, for example, is written with the characters for "night god", which I've never seen spelled that way outside of that series. Another example would be Itachi from Naruto: Itachi means "weasel", which is a very unlucky symbol and not a name parents are going to go for in the real world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Geisha Motif Obi at Ichiroya

Geisha, while often seen in paintings and occasionally haori jacket linings, don't often make it onto kimono or fabrics, or at least they don't from what I've seen. (That's one likely way to tell a fake "tourist kimono", actually, as the makers at times slap geisha all over them because they're a famous enough symbol of Japan to appeal to foreign tourists.)

So I was surprised to see this geisha Nagoya obi in one of Ichiroya's most recent updates. At $98 I won't be getting it myself, but thought it was one of the nicer examples of geisha on an authentic kimono piece. :)

Photos copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kamikaze Con Kimono Panel Photos

A big thank you to Alison Wennagel! She attended my kimono panel at Kamikaze Con last month and recently sent along some of the photos she got. It was great meeting you there, and getting to chat at Japan Fest, Alison. Hope to see you around again!

Below are volunteers from the audience modeling a large chunk of my personal kimono collection to show the different styles (thank y'all for helping out :) ), and me putting another volunteer into a cotton summer yukata.

Photos copyright Alison Wennagel and used with permission.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ryu Japan Update - $10 Geta

If you can wear 23cm shoes (roughly 7-8 in American regarding geta, as it's considered normal to let a bit of your heel hang off the back), Ryu Japan has just put up a ton of cute, new wooden geta sandals for $10 a pair. I'm willing to bet the "23cm to 34.5cm" part should actually be "to 24.5cm" as that's a lot more likely than a sandal being able to go from a "Size 7" to "Size NBA Player" without some kind of anime transformation sequence. ;)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

KanjiPop iPhone App

In the last few days I've been playing around with various apps on my new iPhone, which has been heaven for a languages geek like me! I can now read 14 words in Korean and understand some basic French. :)

A neat little Japanese language app I've found is KanjiPop by Lima Sky, at a cost of $1.99. It's a fun way to review kanji in a timed puzzle format. You have a board of kanji and you try to click the right one as hints appear. Ones you get right disappear until you complete the board and move up or the timer runs out and you lose. You can set the hints to English or just the pronunciation/readings or both. A fun way to review for just about anyone, minus people who are absolutely new to kanji and might become frustrated by it. The timer waits for no student!

Older Kids'/Petite Kimono at Kimono Lily

Kimono Lily's most recent update includes two kimono sets for kids or petites, which can be nice if you or your daughter are too tall for little kids' kimono but regular ones are way too long or big for you. (Remember, you always blouse the kimono up over a hidden cord, called a koshihimo, to make a fold seen under the obi anyway, but if even with doing that you've got way too much to work with smaller ones can help.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Even Monkeys...

I almost went to bed without posting- whoops! Tonight I'll share one of my favorite proverbs. "Saru mo ki kara ochiru." さるも木から落ちる. It means "Even monkeys fall from trees," and is used as a way to say "Nobody's perfect."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ichiroya Update - Hakama, Furisode, Crafting Fabric

Ichiroya's update for 4/16 features some cool finds, including a cute cream furisode with bright flowers and juban set for $98 and men's synthetic hakama for $28. Crafty types might be interested in the various karinui (karinui = kimono cut into the right shape but only basted together and not sewn yet) haori bundles. You can see all their new items on this page here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

iTabi iPhone Cases

I realize I'm a couple of years late to the party, but when my old phone broke in half the other day (one too many drops on concrete!), my family decided to give me my birthday present a month early and got me an iPhone. :D

I'm activating it now, and while poking around for accessories for it, I ran across the iTabi site. They sell little iPhone pouches made from kimono fabric for $20, and have some neat designs.

Beyond kimono goodies, I am happy to say the iPhone represents an important milestone in my directionally-challenged life: I will never be lost again!  (I welcome the eventual takeover of Skynet as long as its GPS helps me get around downtown without Google printouts. ;) )

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kanji Beginner: Man and Woman

Today's kanji are short and sweet, but useful whether you're kimono shopping or just need to know the right bathroom to go into. ;)

Man, or "otoko" (oh-toh-koh) on its own, can be remembered as the power/strength 力 out in the fields 田, giving us the kanji 男.

Woman, or "onna" (ohn-nah, be sure to drag out the "n" sound a bit) derives from, if I recall correctly, a pictograph of a seated woman: 女.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The 100th Post!

I realized just a couple of days ago that I was nearing 100 posts on this blog. It's a pretty cool thing for me in terms of determination, because this represents 100 solid days of posting, no matter how tired or busy I was or how late it was at night. I have half a million projects I've started and wandered away from after a week or two, so this is a nice bit of proof that I can actually finish things! ;)

I'd like to thank all of my readers and followers for joining up and sticking with me! I hope to keep things going with another 100 posts, and make this blog better and better as I go. Please always feel free to email me or comment with things you'd like to see more of.

In the meantime, if you'd like to search past entries, here are some of the ongoing series I randomly add to. Just type them into the search box on the right, and thanks for stopping by!

Tips for Kimono Newbies
Common Motifs
Kimono Coordination
Book Review
Kimono on a Budget
Ebay Seller Review
Kanji Beginner

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tips for Kimono Newbies: What is a Haori?

Inspired by questions I got at the kimono booth this weekend (I'm tired, but again it was another fun, busy day: thank you to everyone who stopped by!), our topic for tonight is haori.

What is a haori? A haori is a jacket worn over kimono. It is never meant to be worn as a top by itself, or crossed over in the front like a kimono. The collar is meant to hang straight down along your chest.

There are both men's and women's haori, and you can check which gender one is meant for just like kimono: look at the back of the sleeves. Women's will be open, where you could stick your hand in, and men's will be closed and/or sewn to the body of the haori itself. Below are two women's, followed by a man's.

I like wearing mine with Western clothes, as it's easier to work a jacket into your look rather than an all-out kimono ensemble: a black silk haori with subtle patterns can look really nice with a pair of dark jeans, dark top and heels, or worn with a nice dress for a night out at the symphony, etc.

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Japan Fest - Thank You! and Festival Foods

A big thank you to everyone that came out to our booth today! A few of you knew me already from my kimono panels, and I met some new people and learned a few new things myself, like details about fundoshi and iaido: very cool!

We'll be there again tomorrow, at Hermann Park in Houston, from 11am-5pm. :)

In the meanwhile, in case you're not in Houston or won't be going, let me add a random list of my favorite Japanese festival/quick bite foods, inspired by the yummy food at the festival today. If you get the chance, try these out at your local Japanese restaurant or festival.

Kara-age- fried chicken

Yakitori - chicken on a stick (in America you'll only get breast meat, usually, but if you go to Japan specify "mune" for breast, or you might get other not-so-tasty parts of the chicken!)

Takoyaki - octopus dough balls (an acquired taste, but great with the sauce they pour over them)

Dango - sweet, sticky rice dough balls on a stick

Yaki-imo - roasted sweet potato

Friday, April 9, 2010

Teaming up with Kyoto Kimono for Japan Fest!

Tomorrow and Sunday, Houston's Hermann Park will be home to Japan Fest. I'll be there selling kimono as a local rep. for Kyoto Kimono, so stop on by and say "hi" if you're going! It's my first time selling kimono after all this time collecting them, and I'm a little nervous and excited at the same time.

We've got some great haori, obi, and a nice collection of casual and nicer komon kimono (small, repeating pattern), as well as men's wear and kids' yukata too. Prices start at $20, kimono and haori start at $40, with nothing in the booth over $100.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Common Motifs: Dragonfly

In late summer, you can see beautiful (and at times quite large o_O) dragonflies in Japan, giving us our textile motif for the day: tonbo 蜻蛉 or トンボ, "dragonfly".

Naturally a late summer, early autumn theme, you can find tonbo motifs on a variety of items. Below are a bolt of kimono fabric, a haori jacket, yukata fabric, and a detail shot of a furisode.

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Doll Divine Kimono Dress Up Game

Doll Divine: This isn't a new dress-up game, but I think it's a classic and one of the prettiest! It allows you to dress up a doll in kimono a la the old ukiyo-e paintings (notice the trailing hems and looser, more natural obi) and/or have some modern fun with the hair colors and styles.

The only note I'd make is to be sure to click on the open flowers at the bottom to get to the next screen. The game won't let you skip ahead or move on unless you've chosen an option (the smaller blossoms for hair color, for example, have to be clicked before the next one opens).

It's a lovely way to both kill a bit of time and play around with a pile of (virtual) kimono that didn't cost you an arm and a leg. ;)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kimono Knowledge: Hitoe vs. Awase

There are a bunch of ways to categorize kimono: some terms cover areas of formality: 小紋 komon and 訪問着 houmongi are examples of this (casual, "small pattern" and more formal "visiting wear", respectively).

Some cover the physical construction of the kimono itself, such as today's terms, 単衣 hitoe and 袷 awase. Hitoe means "unlined" (single layer), and awase means "lined".

Hitoe kimono are worn from June through September, with awase worn the rest of the year. They're useful terms to know when shopping: if you're looking for kimono on the cheap, hitoe tend to go for less. If you're in a colder climate, you might want to stick with awase.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tips for Kimono Newbies: Lord of the Rings

As you get into wearing kimono, you'll find there are some rules that you can bend pretty heavily and not have anyone look at you too funny, but the one you absolutely can't break is the following:

Lord of the Rings
Look, It's a Rhino!
Leftover Rice (from Ichiroya's videos)

or the original these are meant to help you remember...

Left over Right.

This refers to how the kimono crosses at your throat: kimono are always, always worn with the wearer's left over the right. When other people look at you, they should see the letter "y" at your collar.

Right over left is only done for corpses. In recent years in Japan, the younger generation's unfamiliarity with wearing kimono regularly has led to a new misconception among some that one alignment is for men, and one for women. This isn't true, and the older generations or kimono wearers will usually point this out if the topic comes up.

It's also a neat way to see if photos have been flipped. If you've ever seen a pro kimono wearer (geisha come to mind) wearing right over left, you can virtually guarantee it's because someone flipped the image.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Movie Review: Ninja Assassin

Last night I got around to seeing 2009's Ninja Assassin, which was about what I expected it to be, with some major gore thrown in: a B-grade action flick.

Korean pop star Rain's character Raizo is abducted as a child and raised by a clan of ninja bad-asses, who can literally melt out of the shadows and heal themselves. Unlike fellow magical boarding school Hogwarts, Raizo's new home has a major downside in that the main teaching method is beating small children with sticks and killing those who try to run away. He eventually escapes and begins fighting against the clan.

We learn all this through a series of flashbacks set over the events of the modern day, where a plucky government forensic researcher tries to prove the existence of ninja clans to her boss and things start going downhill from there.

Lots of bad dialogue and action take place, the action primarily consisting of black-suited men in dark rooms hacking at what look like exploding blood packs on each other's bodies: messy, hard to follow, and save a couple of scenes not very coherent. The opening scene almost made me shut the movie off, as I don't mind purposeful gore when it's relevant, but I really don't need to see prolonged shots of a guy's head chopped off above the mouth.

Long story short, my friend and I are glad we only paid the rental fee. Don't bother with this one unless you're a Rain fan (he's certainly easy on the eyes, and his dancing background makes his ninja poise believable) or are looking for some mindless action fluff to pass the time with.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Photo Ideas

Spring is a wonderful time of year to get photos: in this blog's case, whether it's your full-on Taisho-era furisode outfit or a cosplay kimono you sewed yourself. The natural greening and flowering of just about everything works well with just about any outfit, as one of the best ways to get nice photos is to get a nice background: setting can really add to or detract from your efforts.

Here in Texas, it's bluebonnet season. Bluebonnets are the state flower, and bloom in huge, gorgeous swaths along the countryside. I snapped a couple of shots today when a friend and I drove out to see them. I wasn't in kimono, but I may suit up and head out in the future if I get a nice contrasting orange kimono. :)

A few tips for spring flower shoots in your area:

- Take a look around your area with the eye of a photographer next time you're out driving, and remember you don't need a giant field of flowers if you frame your shot right. Careful framing, filling the  shot with flowers, will suggest there is a larger field of them beyond the frame even if there isn't.

- Bring an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun off you between shots, and water or a drink, a small blanket or tarp you can kneel on if you're going to sit in the flowers, and remember to take allergy medicine before you go if you have any sort of hay fever whatsoever.

- Lots of flowers attract lots of bugs: if you're highly bug-phobic, this may not be a good shoot idea, even though your sleeves flying as you flail about swatting things might look interesting. ;)

- Have your photographer get down at waist level to keep the flowers from looking small (as will happen if you shoot down at someone from above).

-Try to shoot early in the morning or right around dusk: harsh overhead daylight isn't kind to people's features, and can wash out the color of the flowers and your outfit.

-Be aware of flowering times and don't put a shoot off. Many flowers only bloom for a few weeks at a time, with their peak period maybe a week long or so.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Anime Matsuri: Thank You!

A big thank-you to everyone who showed up for my kimono panel today at Anime Matsuri, and to Brian for helping me out! I always enjoy getting the chance to share my kimono love with others, and you were a great crowd.

For those of you who weren't there, with the help of a lot of volunteers from the crowd modeling (thank you!), we made it through all the types of kimono and obi, as well as putting on a woman's yukata kimono and men's formal outfit from start to finish. I didn't have time to show how to tie a a taiko obi knot, but now I'll have something new to show at my next panel, whenever that ends up being. :)

I've been asked if I'll be doing the AM kimono panel scheduled for this Sunday, but that isn't me: I believe it's one of the vendors for the con.

Photos to possibly come later if I can track them down. Have a great holiday weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

2PM Panel at Anime Matsuri Tomorrow!

For those of you attending Houston's Anime Matsuri this weekend, I'll be doing an introductory kimono panel tomorrow, Friday, at 2pm in Panel Room 3. If you've caught previous panels of mine at Oni Con or Kamikaze Con, it will be the same basic panel but for the first time I'll be showing a very basic men's kitsuke and possibly also a basic women's taiko knot, depending on time. If you caught one or the other of the previous panels, you'll also see a few different kimono than last time. :)

I'll also be giving away a women's yukata kimono and obi set, great for conventions, festivals, cosplays or just dressing up.

I have a lot of fun with these panels, but the packing for them is always nuts. Wish me luck!