Home Culture The Obi

The Obi

By Lori Matsukawa
The North American Post

Mariko Kayama left and Yu Ugawa dressing me in a kimono

The stylists padded quietly in their tabi, speaking highly feminine and polite Japanese. Mariko Kayama, “Niki” Nakamitsu, and the renowned Yu Ugawa wrapped me in an undergarment, a collar garment and finally, an astounding black silk kimono exploding with red, purple, and gold flowers. Plum, cherry, iris.

Shoka Ludden did what I considered impossible. She swept my short hair up with the help of oddly shaped hairpins and spurts of softly fragrant Shu Uemura hair spray. The purpose: to reveal the nape of my neck which is framed just-so by the kimono collar.

The highlight of this elaborate outfit was the shiny gold obi, hand-tied by Ugawa-san. She is a tiny woman, but a mighty one. She creased, folded, and knotted the thick silk brocade fabric. Her experienced hands commanded the heavy cloth to transform into a flowing, sumptuous bow of bold and exquisite size.

The completed obi

I loved that the back of my costume was even more evocative than the front. I imagined walking past cherry trees along a riverbank in Kyoto and having the last vision of me being the disappearing chrysanthemum blossoms at the nape of my neck and the obi, beckoning like a wind-kissed flower.

“Who is that woman? How old is she?” One cannot tell because the long furisode sleeves and exploding obi are meant for young, unmarried women. The curls and flowers in her hair are flirty, not reserved. A woman departing in mystery.

Note: The stylists are from Kimono Art here in Washington State. This was just the second time the author had ever been dressed in formal kimono. The first time was in Tokyo at age 17.

From left to right Mariko Kayama Yu Ugawa me and Niki Nakamatsu at the Japanese American Society of the State of Washington centennial gala
Lori Matsukawa wrote the children’s book, Brave Mrs. Sato, about stories her
grandmother told her (napost.com, Nov. 10).
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The North American Post is a community newspaper that celebrates Japanese culture in the Greater Seattle area. Founded by 1st generation Japanese-Americans in 1902, the publication is one of the oldest minority-owned newspapers in the region. Today, with bilingual articles in English and Japanese, the publication connects readers with diverse cultural backgrounds to Seattle’s Japanese community. Our articles include local news, event calendars, restaurant reviews, Japanese cooking recipes, community interviews, and more.