Two years ago on this day I stood in a traditional Japanese room in Kyoto while a woman wrapped me in a blue kimono.
It was an experience I had longed for. Just visiting Japan was a dream I have had since sixteen. I have countless old notepads filled with handwritten budgets for a trip to Japan, but year after year my hopes were dashed by financial ineptitude (ie/ I kept spending my money on books, comics, manga, video games and DVDs). Even later when I began to enjoy the financial freedom of a dual income with my lovely husband my plans kept being dashed by an animal becoming sick ($3,000 worth of sick) or a car breaking down and eventually the plans just faded into the back of my mind as both T-J and I sweated it out in 40+ hour work weeks.
Then T-J stepped up the pressure for wanting kids. I know, a bit of a role reversal, but T-J always wanted kids and while I was not anti-kids I knew I had nowhere near the maturity level I needed just yet. I always knew I was warming up to the idea, but it wasn’t until I became drastically ill with a (still undiagnosed) vertigo disorder. One of the first things they tested the crazy, dizzy girl for was pregnancy. And when the test came back negative I was disappointed. Ok, you got me T-J, it’s kids time, but first take me to Japan. My sickness was in October/November. I was in Japan the following March. Told you he wanted kids.
So there I stood, Kyoto out the window as she pulled the obi tight around my waist. The room was lightly heated against the chill of spring, but outside it was so cold I tottered straight for a vending machine that sold hot coffee cans so I could warm my hands.
We walked together around the temples of Kyoto. The Shinto gods chose to be generous by not making it too chilly and keeping the rain to only a light drizzle in the afternoon. I had prayed at every temple for the five days previous for the weather to be kind just this one day, and the day before we had taken a walking tour of Kyoto that took us to no less than 10 temples.
The kimono was snug against my hips and thighs and my method of walking had to alter to accommodate this. I found myself moving my knees very little, taking small tottering steps. Considering the many slopes in the area of Kyoto we were travelling this led to burning calves after a few hours. The obi and its elaborate bow forced me to stand with better posture than I was accustomed to also, creating a dull ache in my lower back. These things meant almost nothing too me however as nearly every woman who walked past would compliment me with the word ‘suteki’ (pronounced steki due to the silent u), to which I would bow graciously and reply with ‘arigatou’. Suteki translates to stunning and who could bother with mild pain when they were being told such a thing?
Being early spring, the time of cherry blossoms, the temple paths were alive with stalls selling trinkets and food. We ate cherry blossom flavoured ice cream, so delicate and sweet in taste and savoured the smell of roasting squid (though sadly weren’t game enough to try it because we weren’t certain it was squid). Bags full of Studio Ghibli goods started to pile up on my arm and as the light drizzle started its misty fall we sheltered together under my SquareEnix umbrella as we continued on to Kiyomizudera.
At the temple we found a particularly beautiful sakura tree for me to take my dream picture under. I stood there, in a suteki kimono, in front of a blooming sakura tree with a pokewalker on my obi. That photo remains my portrait to this day.
Eventually even being told I was suteki was not enough to abolish the growing pain in my calves and back. We made our way back to the rental store, stopping briefly for a quick meal to be undressed by the same skillful hands as had dressed us that morning.
This is a memory I will treasure forever.
If you want to see or experience any of these things for yourself here are links to the Kimono rental store, the walking tour I mentioned and the ryokan we stayed in. Temples we visited included Kiyomizudera, Gokoki Shrine and Ryozen Kannon and here are some pictures to illustrate the day.