Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Exotic (08/08/13)
By Marlene Bonney
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It had been an eventful year for me, beginning with the notable day braces were removed from my straightened teeth and ending in my father’s job transfer to far away Japan, moving us all thousands of miles away from all that was familiar. Even though I complained about changing schools and leaving my decade-old friends, I was secretly looking forward to a new adventure.
Instead of the usual balloons, streamers, and bakery-made birthday cake that had adorned our living/dining room in America, there were intricately-designed paper lanterns hanging on strings between the linden trees in our backyard. The colors and artwork on them were amazing! We had tiny paper umbrellas for favors and Mom made traditional rice dishes, with chopsticks as our only silverware. It took some practice to manage this awkward style of eating and my new friend, Miko, giggled at my first attempts with the oversized toothpicks. Dessert was something called amanato, sugar-covered beans, which was very different than the candled-birthday cake I was accustomed to. But I was determined to embrace this new culture with gusto, each new thing becoming a challenge. I took to most of it like a lily pad to a pond.
Miko introduced me to other English-speaking friends, as well, and I found that teenage girls were much the same here, as there. They even dressed similar most of the time, although somewhat more conservatively on normal days.
Our house had a lot of black and white contrasts of fascinating shoji screens and Japanese lamps. Rice paper, stone, bamboo, maple, stone and cedar filled our home with a blending of opposites that created an atmosphere of peace and balance, something this country was known for. I loved the feel of the tatami mats under my bare feet that made our floors cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We learned to remove our shoes upon entering anyone’s home (including our own), entrances inside the front doors called “genkans” for this very purpose.
Far and away the most striking of all these unique characteristics of another culture, I was most mesmerized by the kimonos Mido showed me! I felt such a thrill when I saw her mother decked out in an elaborate silk creation of such a mixture of bright colors that it drew my breath away! Silken folds flowed from her arms (Miko called them “tamoto”), the epitome of graceful movement, and I instantly fell in love with this formal dress used only for special occasions. I eventually learned that a long undergarment called “nagajuban” is worn underneath this kimono, and how to tie the “obi”, this sash reminding me of a cumber bun.
I was like a child at a candy counter when I first saw a rack of these formal kimonos in a sidewalk shop. I remember hesitantly fingering the brightly-dyed silks, afraid my touch might somehow destroy the illusive pleasure at my fingertips. Like a fly to a picnic lunch, I was drawn to these creations whenever we were out and about on shopping excursions.
Nothing has compared to the thrill of donning my first furisode (formal kimono) a couple of years later for a wedding ceremony. Even now, as a Japanese dual-citizen, I feel like a princess when I wear this traditional dress. Its exotic, even mystical, aura with its unique design and perfectly dyed silks and blend of expansive rippling sleeves and fluffy folds never fail to impress me. The pleasure of its satiny caresses across my arms with the hem graceful against my ankles as I adapt to its somewhat restrictive movement never ceases to excite me.
My favorite furisode remains the first one I laid eyes on, Miko’s mother standing in front of me in all her furls, raising her arms to show me the width and depth of the tamoto, reminding me of a peacock spreading its panoramic tail. The vivid reds and whites against black, swirling around a rainbow of other muted hues, always amaze me.
This kimono, a gift from Miko to me years and years later, hangs in a special place in my closet. Once a year on the anniversary of my first day in Japan, I meticulously adorn myself in this creation—to appreciate--and to remember.
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