March is the end of the school year in Japan, and unlike in the UK, graduation ceremonies are a really big deal. I had three days in a row of JHS graduation ceremonies, which was probably enough. One of my teacher’s asked me if I was going to wear hakama, which is a kimono with a dark skirt worn over the bottom half. Hakama are worn by teachers instead of normal kimono so that they don’t draw attention away from the students’ jazzy-looking mothers. I said I’d think about it, but I don’t think she expected me to actually wear one.
Luckily I know a lovely lady from my English conversation class who used to dress people in kimono for a living, so I asked her if she would kindly lend me one for one of the ceremonies. She was more than happy to oblige! She has a room in her house dedicated to her kimonos, and kept saying how much fun she was going to have dressing me as she never gets the chance anymore, and has all these kimonos with no one to wear them. She and her husband spent about an hour showing me all their old photo albums and telling me about their family, who’ve moved to other parts of Japan so they don’t see them very often. After I tried on a kimono, they gave me tea and fed me and said they wanted to be my adoptive Japanese grandparents! She had to buy zori especially for me as my feet are so big, and even then it took a good deal of effort to get them on. I made her some scones as an apology/thank you.
I tried to get a video of my Japanese granny dressing me up, but it was a bit difficult and this is all I could manage in between her turning me this way and that, and giggling as she gleefully slapped my stomach with some force after putting the different belts on. I loved the whispery sound the silk fabrics made as she expertly folded, tightened, pulled and wrapped it around me, muttering to herself in Japanese.
It wasn’t easy to breathe once I had everything on, and I suddenly felt great sympathy for women who had (or still have) to wear these every day, especially in the hot Japanese summer. It slackened a bit and didn’t feel too bad until I tried to eat lunch later on!! I imagine wearing a corset is even more uncomfortable. I absolutely loved wearing hakama though!
It was just me and another teacher wearing hakama for graduation, as everyone else wore business suits, but they seemed to really enjoy seeing me in traditional Japanese clothing! Japanese ceremonies are very formal and polished so even the way the students march, turn and bow has been rehearsed to perfection. When the teachers asked me what I thought of the ceremonies, I told them I thought they were very serious, and they were a bit shocked when I said we don’t really have graduation ceremonies for school in the UK. Then I was shocked when I asked the students if they were going to a party to celebrate, but they said they weren’t doing anything, except one girl who was going to practise table tennis. We may have not had a ceremony when I graduated, but getting all dressed up for prom and dancing away the last evening with all my classmates was so much fun. The ceremonies were very emotional and pretty much all the students were crying as they moved down the line of teachers to shake our hands. I was just thinking… you’ve still got three more years of school!! But they really are like one big family to each other, so it was sad to think they’re all splitting up to go to different high schools.