I have to admit that living in Japan on a Navy base has given our family a unique opportunity to experience Japan and its culture in a “fish bowl” kind of way. I say this because here on base, everyone speaks English, and although we drive on the left side of the road and Japan is literally outside our gates, a person could really shelter themselves within the base.
I’ve decided to get out of my comfort zone these past few weeks, even if just for an hour or two at a time. I discovered an opportunity where I was able to dress in a kimono and walk around town. The singular experience of getting dressed in a kimono was an event within itself. There are so many layers and ties and detailed wrapping, that when asked how I felt, my only response was, “like a sushi roll” – I loved every minute of it.
My friends and I showed up to the dressing and were pleased to find out that we could pick out a kimono set from at least a dozen on display, in the middle of a tatami room. They closed the room after we arrived with a few other ladies and we were dressed down to be dressed up! The ladies who were getting us ready had a variety of “tools” to get us tucked and tied into our chosen kimonos, and used them to create some amazing bows on our obis.
Once we were all dolled up and ready to go, we were led outside to walk the popular Blue Street towards a festival near the Yokosuka-chuo train station. Waiting for us outside the doors of the building was a cluster of men with cameras ready to take our pictures and follow us…we were not expecting this and it took us by surprise, to say the least! Apparently, one of the gentlemen was from the local newspaper and from what I could tell, another was with our guide. Later we found out that our guide is part owner of a kimono shop on Blue street. We had become a walking advertisement! The other part of this walk that came very unexpectedly, was that we were part of the festival and expected to speak!! Thank goodness our guide spoke English well because we would have been completely lost and I would have had to do my best to smile and nod to the millionth power.
Once we gave ourselves over to this experience, we really started to feel like celebrities. Shop owners were coming out to greet us and take pictures with us. People passing by were asking if we were famous. Once we were done speaking at the festival we were given a place to sit. A food stand owner gave us a cup of some delicious vegetable soup and were being waited on hand and foot. We watched as a couple of local groups danced. We were absolutely taken with the kids that were performing, they were so talented! We had lunch with the ladies who dressed us at a Hawaiian themed restaurant and we ate so carefully so that we would not spill on our lovely attire.
When our time was up, I was both relieved and a little sad. The kimonos were stunning and I learned that the other two ladies that were part of our group were a mother and daughter. This made me think of what it would be like to share this experience with my own daughters. Men also wear kimonos but I have to say that there is something truly special about being in a room with women dressing together in such traditional formal attire. I also felt a kinship with the Japanese mom and daughter, because once we were out of the last layers, we all took a deep breath in and out – because we could finally breathe freely again! Though we didn’t speak the same language, we shared a funny little joke!
On March 3rd, the Japanese celebrate Hina Matsuri or Girls Day (a doll festival of sorts). This day has essentially been explained as a day where households with young daughters display a special doll set, with the Emperor and Empress dolls sitting on top. The superstition in states that each family with the display set out, will have their daughter’s marriage date determined by how late or early they put away the dolls. I guess it all comes down to how you look at life, because in our home, I think my husband would leave out the dolls all year long!!
Like any other holiday, there is traditional food and treats. Last year, my friends and I got together and celebrated with our little ones. This year, my three year old daughter is attending a Japanese kindergarten and celebrated a special arts festival in February. Every kid at the school had something on display and from what we could tell the theme was Hina Matsuri and food. The level of detail that some of the work had was amazing. My little Thalia brought home all of her projects and even though she kept telling me that it was me and her papa, it is clearly the emperor and empress. Friday she came home from school with a bag of candy which is so popular this time of year, because Sunday is March 3rd, the “Girls Day Holiday”, and was eager to share it with me and her sister!
I feel really fortunate that not only am I learning a lot about Japanese culture and traditions, but so is my daughter or I might even say, I’m learning it as a result of my little girl. She’s so young that I doubt she remembers much about our time here, but I have hope that my photos and stories will stay with her for a lifetime.
Another unique holiday to Japan is White Day on March 14th. This special day is in response to Valentine’s Day; which is much different than how we celebrate it back in the states. Here in Japan, V-Day is a special day where women give men chocolates out of love, respect, thanks or social obligation.
White Day is the day where the men who receive chocolates on Valentine’s Day return the sentiment. The gifts the men give are supposed to be more generous; about 3 times the amount that the women spend or if the chocolates were handmade than the guy is in trouble because that is a grand gesture!
Gifts given on White Day are similar to what I know as traditional American Valentine’s gifts such as flowers, jewelry, lingerie or other romantic trinkets. Of course, if the woman who gave a gift to a man who was a friend or acquaintance or even a superior at work, than the gift is much simpler such as chocolates, stuffed animals, etc.
I wasn’t as familiar last year with White Day as I am this year. This is unfortunate for the hubby because “When in Rome…” or in our case, “While in Japan…!” Lucky for him, he’s on a ship that’s underway and has already promised to come bearing gifts.
I’ve met such wonderful Japanese friends that have answered all my questions, no matter how absurd I’ve sounded. I have learned so much about the aforementioned traditions and holidays, I am truly grateful for the experiences.