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This past weekend was my first time attending an Obon festival and Bon Odori. Obon is a festival with roots reaching back over 500 years in Japan. It’s celebration is centered on honoring one’s ancestors and takes place in July or August depending on whether the region marks the solar or lunar calendar.
The event was huge in San Diego and took place the weekend of August 6th. Not only did it take over SanKeiEn, the Japanese Friendship Garden there, but also the Organ Pavilion. There were dance presentations and music performances, games, delicious food, vendors of all kinds selling everything from yukata to pottery and antiques, and different societies representing Japanese culture, from the Buddhist Temple to the Shiba Inu club of San Diego.
My kitsuke class, whose members also make up the San Diego Kimono Club, was participating by hosting the yukata fashion show. Over 20 women participated each wearing a very different yukata and hanhaba obi with a variety of meanings to them. A family heirloom over 80 years old. A yukata made with traditional Okinawan patterns and techniques. A kimono re-purposed into a modern summer dress. Our youngest member, 10 years old, with her heko obi tied into a bright and beautiful bow.
I was originally only going to come to take video and photos of the event because my yukata had somehow managed to find it’s way in to the dryer and had shrunk to the point I couldn’t wear it (yikes!). About 3 days before Obon I remembered that I not only knew how to sew, but I also knew how to sew a yukata. Taking my love of astronomy and NASA as an inspiration I made myself a yukata out of a cotton material with constellations and planets all over it.
After seeing it and finding out that I had made it myself my instructor and the MC encouraged me to join the fashion show as a last minute addition – which caused a bit of a problem as I had worn tennis shoes and did not have a set of geta handy!!
This was solved by my removing my shoes and walking on the stage in my socks. (Which threw the MC off a bit as she had wanted to talk about how modern and fun a yukata could be when paired with something like tennis shoes!)
The fashion show we create is always meant to show people how much fun wearing kimono is and ends with a dance to “Boogie Wonderland”. I love that we are showing that while beautiful and traditional wearing kimono is also comfortable and enjoyable!
My kimono instructor had her own booth and was selling kimono and dressing people so they could even more enjoy the spirit of the festival. There were so many people in yukata it was wonderful to see!!
To learn more about the tradition of Obon and Bon Odori here are a few links:
If you live in the San Diego area and would like to experience renting a kimono to wear for an event or photo shoot please visit my instructor’s page at Kimono Rental Yuko:
How do I describe how nervous I was being in my first kimono fashion show. The rinzu silk kimono of gradated pink, purple and white covered in sakura (cherry blossoms) and gosho-kuruma (Court Carriage) designed by a kabuki actor and gifted to me for Christmas remains one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and my favorite of all that I own. I was honestly scared I was going to step on it! I was worried I had done just that when trying to climb in to an SUV to go to the Festival because my long Furisode sleeves got caught under me! Fortunately I had not stepped on my sleeve and no damage was done to them! But I think there needs to be a new etiquette on how you climb up into a large vehicle!
But how to do my hair? My makeup? How do I walk? It was my first time wearing zori for so long and they had just been adjusted for me that morning. What kind of face does one have on when walking with kimono?
I settled on a version of my favorite kimono hair that I had found in a YouTube tutorial. A French braid crown across the front pulled loosely on purpose and a bun in the back with a small amount left down in the back. My makeup I kept natural except for a touch of purple to match the kimono in the corner of my eyes. I walked as the lessons in my dance videos instructed which was with a bit of a sliding motion, with your knees bent and kept together.
I tried to keep my face mild and serene with a bit of a smile but when I look at the photos it looks more like I’m plotting the downfall of some fantastical country full of leprechauns – or something like world domination – so next time I think I’ll just smile.
It was amazing and every one of the 22 women taking part in it looked so beautiful! Such detail, design, color and art. Traditional, modern, serious and fun! I can’t think of a better way to spend a day! And such an interested crowd. At least 200 crowded the pavilion at the San Diego Friendship Garden and whether it was a demonstration of how to tie a fukuro obi in one of the most elaborate patterns, or proving that kimono could be fun with a dance to a pop song, they were cheering, clapping to the music and applauding.
I hope there are many more fashion shows in the future and we get to introduce more people to just how beautiful and joyful kimono can be!