Storybook Perfect

Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Category: the japan-o-files

Kitsuke

Did you enjoy reading Hanabi to Kitsune? Were you confused or intrigued about kitsuke after reading it?

Kitsuke is ‘the art of wearing a kimono'(and that act of it too). Some basic rules you might have caught in the story are that certain prints suit certain seasons, and how particular colours match(or contrast!) to look beautiful and stylish.

For example with prints and seasons, when I wore a kimono in spring, you’ll notice the strong theme of cherry blossoms both on my kimono and my obi (the picture also shows the gorgeous bow they tied for me too). Don’t panic if you find a lovely yukata or kimono which has multiple season images on it – you’ve found a special item which can be worn in both seasons 😀

You can also let your destination play into your choice, for example if you are going to be spending time waterside you might pick a print with irises on it since they grow by the water.

Your age can be a factor too. Younger people are encouraged to wear bright colours or bold patterns, but the older you get the more you’re encouraged to wear muted colours and simpler prints and patterns. Never forget though, you’re only the age you feel you are!

If you’d like to admire more kimono and learn more about kitsuke you can check out or follow some of the blogs I do.

Check out Kimono Tsuki she’s currently doing a Disney Princess Kitsuke project so she’s combining two loves of mine <3

Aubergine Fleur’s blog is full of magnificent shots of a wide range of obis being worn beautifully.

On Tumblr Kimono Nagoya(many pictures, plus a good amount of advice on how to co-ordinate); Tanuki Kimono(stories and accessories abound too), Wa-Dance (so many adorable drawings with on point kitsuke, and swatches), and Kimono Colours(puts a colour palette beside the pictures to help you figure out what matches and contrasts best). There’s lots more, but these are just my top picks, if you’re curious for even more and too lazy to look forthem yourself I could be convinced to share a longer list.

Going back to Hanabi to Kitsune, it’s just as well Mayu chose not to go obi-less since the ‘Heisei style’ her friend saw never extended very far beyond a few television images, and a couple of fashion blogs in Japan. It didn’t really take off ;p If you’re curious as to why I included it I was flicking through my Tumblr feed I saw the post below and decided a kitsuke-savvy girl like Mayu would know and think of it. At the time I wrote the story this was very new news. Time has proven it to never evolve. But I like it still being there, maybe it will make people Google ‘Heisei style yukata’ and make them ask more questions about kitsuke.

http://kimononagoya.tumblr.com/post/149916446276/hi-i-hope-i-can-ask-a-question-and-include-an

Beautiful Short From Studio Ghibli

Anyone who knows anything about me knows I love Studio Ghibli, and when I’m in a poor mood nothing lifts my spirits like my favourite Ghibli films(Howl’s Moving Castle is a legitimate replacement for chocolate cake to me).

So of course I’m super excited to see they’ve made a super cute short based on the earliest recorded manga, the Choju Jinbutsu Giga picture scrolls.

It’s super short, but so cute.

For those not familiar with some points of Japanese culture, unlike here in the west where we write our initials in a heart with our partner’s, in Japan you write your names sharing an umbrella, so that little bit at the end is super sweet <3

An Amazing Photo

Not much of a post today, but I really wanted to share this utterly insane photo with you.

It’s a picture of Tokyo as viewed from Tokyo Tower, it is zoomable and has the full 360degree view.

I am trying so hard not to waste time looking for futons airing over balcony railings and trying to read the names on the posts in the Buddhist cemetery. Now I pass the time-wasting on to you ;p

Writers and Their Superstitions

We writers can be a superstitious lot. I know writers who have a special location they prefer to work at, or a particular item of clothing they think makes the muse be more attentive. A lot of us seem to have something we believe we need to make us more successful or more creative in our endeavours.

I’m an intensely superstitious person – but not in the standard way. Walk under a ladder, yeah, done it way too often. Black cats? Cute and cool, but don’t care which way I cross their path. Mirrors, broken a few, mostly for art projects back in high school or by accident when moving. However I have certain habits, like when I used to drive to work every day I would look out at a lake I drove past and knew I would have a good day if I saw a bird with its wings fanned to dry in the sun. If there were no birds, I knew that a particular someone I didn’t like would probably visit my store that day. Weirdly enough, it was relatively accurate. A bizarre little superstition, but even now – though work is in the other direction – if I drive past, I look to the lake for my bird friend and gauge whether that day will be good or not.

Shinto Pencils

Shinto Pencils

Lucky charms play a big part in superstitions. Some writers have a special notepad, or pen they like to use. I’m quite partial to my Shinto pencils I bought from the Meiji shrine when I was in Tokyo. The pencils are traditionally bought by students. The students use these pencils to write their notes as they study. The pencils are supposed to invoke a Shinto god to give them luck in academics, make them pass that entrance exam or just generally be smarter. The power of the pencil is released more and more as it grows shorter and shorter with each sharpening. I use mine to write notes about my stories as I plan them.

I also have a lucky editing charm, a pen I bought from Ueno zoo (also in Tokyo – I TOLD you people I’m a Japanophile). It’s one of those multi-colour pens where you click between red, blue, green and black. I use the red and green to do my proofing and editing.

Do you have any weird superstitions or lucky charms, even if they aren’t related to writing?

 

Two Years Ago On This Day

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.

The Complexity of Japanese Names

Inspired somewhat by this post on naming characters I thought I would tell you all about my recent adventure with naming Storybook Perfect’s protagonist.

Wait a sec you say, didn’t I finish writing Storybook Perfect ages ago – that’s the completed manuscript, right? So why are you naming the character now? I had originally named the character Yui right from the start. She was of Japanese/Australian descent with an Aussie father and a Japanese mother. When she turned eighteen she took her mother’s maiden name as her last name in honour of her deceased mother, so she has an entirely Japanese name.

Originally Yui was Yui Horiba, but recently it occurred to me for authenticities sake I would need to know her name meaning and the kanji she used for her name. For those unfamiliar with the Japanese written language there is the Hiragana(for words of Japanese origin) and Katakana(for words of foreign origin) which are similar to the letters of our alphabet only they cover ‘mora’(syllables) such as ‘ka’, ‘tsu’, ‘ni’ ect. Then they make it really hard by having Kanji.

In a nutshell kanji originated from China and are a large and (often)complex symbol which stands for a word or phrase. Most Japanese children are not fully aware of all the kanji so in many books and manga when a kanji is used the hiragana are written small alongside it so it can be spelled out easily. Most Japanese names have a special kanji attributed to them. I realised I had a serious character flaw in the fact I had no idea what Yui’s kanji or meaning were so I studied up.

I had a dreadful time trying to find the meaning for Horiba – which admittedly was a random Japanese surname that the younger me saw and thought ‘oooh, that sounds cool’ – and eventually came to the decision I might have to drop that last name and pick another.

So I thought it best to start with Yui’s first name. I was fairly certain I didn’t want to change that, but if there was no last name I could match with it and be happy about I might be forced to so I didn’t say never. Yui’s name has multiple meanings depending on the kanji (as with most names). Meanings ranged from tie/link, only and reason and most of those could or were teamed up with the kanji for robe/clothing. With this range of meanings in mind I read through lists of last names and their meanings.

I found a brilliant match almost immediately (It’s enough to make you believe in destiny!) in the surname Watanabe. True Watanabe is almost the Japanese equivalent of Smith, but when you hear what the combination of kanji can read as you will see why I chose it for a protagonist who travels from one dimension to another.

Yui Watanabe can be read with these Kanji

Yui Watanabe in Kanji

The Kanji for Yui Watanabe

as tie/link across boundaries/areas. You’ve got to appreciate that and (not to be too spoiler-tastic with my own book) you learn something more in book 2 about how powerful a meaning that name is for her.

Of course I’m still a little paranoid, I’m only a beginner at Japanese and most of my research on names and kanji has been on the internet (where everything HAS to be true. Right?) so my translation may not be perfect. I’m hoping I might be fortunate enough that someone out there more skilled than I might be able to confirm I have it all right (You’d know someone, wouldn’t you Sammy?).

Out of interest does anyone out there have an interesting name meaning, either for themselves or a character they created?

Lastly I hope I didn’t offend any Japanese people in my descriptions I was decsribing what I knew in the simplest way possible and meant no insult if I made any.

Ideal Dust Jackets for Bus-riding Bookies

I thought I would post this link so everyone can enjoy them too, but basically these lovely folk had an idea to make dust jackets for books which say ‘bugger off I’m reading’ in a nice way.

Best Dust Jackets Ever

I wish these had been around in high school. I used to ride the bus to and from school, and living in a rural area meant the ride to school was about 45 min and home was about half an hour (this is because the bus made a circuit and I had to take the longer trip in the morning but could skip it in the afternoon). I gladly filled the dreary journey with delightful books like ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ and ‘The Belgariad’ and ‘Wheel of Time’. However, every now and then someone would have to sit beside me, and on occasion they decided my reading a book was me crying out for human contact.

Now I wasn’t anti-friend making, but if I’m reading it’s because I want to, not because I have no other choice. If I didn’t want to read I could stare out the window at the forests and farmland whisking by – it’s a pretty nice view after all (and still better than talking to some of the people on that bus).

What makes me giggle now as I recall this is when I was fourteen one of the girls who sometimes sat beside me was my now sister-in-law! She confided in me she was always intimidated by my book and didn’t want to talk with me, even though she was interested in becoming my friend.

Just as an interesting cultural aside on dust jackets, in Japan (Kyoto specifically) when I bought a few books, they wrapped them in brown paper dust jackets which advertised the store and hid what book I was reading from any prying eyes. It was very cool and I kept the dust jackets even though I removed them. Here’s a picture of them. I love they even put the website and QR code on the inside. Though as a marketing strategy perhaps the QR code should also be on the outside for non-readers to scan…

Japanese Bookstore Dust Jackets

Japanese Bookstore Dust Jackets

Megane

I’m teaching you all another unusual Japanese word today.

I’m reading Ouran High Host Club, a hilarious manga with an unusual female protagonist and a brilliant harem of men who adore her – or at least hang around her enabling the reader to imagine there could be a possible romantic tryst. While reading I came across the word megane again. Back in my otaku days (otaku being the Japanese word for ‘nerd’ and usually used in reference to a particularly fervent fan of anime and manga) when I downloaded gigabytes of fan-subbed anime, read three or four manga tankobons (graphic novel collections of 6-10 chapters) a day (not exaggerating – every day!) and collected figurines and did cosplay, I knew the word. But as the fervour turned into a more well-paced and restrained enjoyment of manga the word slipped out of my vocabulary but has now been returned.

Megane translates to ‘glasses’ directly, but is often used by otaku to say they have a particular penchant for characters who wear glasses like Uryuu Ishida from Bleach, Kyoya from Ouran High Host Club and Miyuki from Lucky Star. Some mean it in a fetishist way, while others (like me) use it to mean usually their favourite characters are the ones wearing glasses. It’s usually a coincidence for me, they just happen to often have glasses, but some people choose their favourites because of the fetish.

I know today was a bit of a random post, but I hope you enjoyed learning a few new Japanese terms (and hearing briefly about my dark past as a wild otaku!

Chiyogami

I originally planned to make my own design for my website but – as I mentioned in my earlier post busy few weeks – I was given no choice but to start my website a month earlier than planned or miss out on an opportunity to pay a lot less for my hosting, so I ended up choosing this cute theme for now.

To be honest I hadn’t even thought about what my design would look like, so when the site went up I was left clawing my brain for ideas. I remembered on a trip into the city with a good friend going to Eckersley’s art and craft store and seeing some lovely chiyogami (fancy origami paper which is usally silk screen painted featuring a repeated pattern, also known as yuzen for the dyeing style used) featuring goldfish. Being a japanophile I wanted to buy them at the time, but couldn’t justify buying the paper, no matter how beautiful the image without having an actual use. Now I have the perfect one!

I plan to use the goldfish pattern for my background and am thinking a maneki-neko in the header perhaps, but I’ll need to play around with it before I put anything up online.

In regards to the pattern I chose I always used to be obsessed with cherry blossoms, I still am, but my interests have broadened. While I was in Japan I saw a beautiful kimono with a goldfish pattern. For some foolish reason I didn’t buy it and I regret that decision rather frequently. Ever since then I’ve been a bit nutty about goldfish patterns. I’m even considering using the pattern on my business cards.

It’s interesting how a regret can create a passion like that… Do you have any similar stories? Oh and keep an eye out for my new design (but don’t hold your breath).

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