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Tea and Kimono

by Marjorie Yap

From the first time I saw a presentation of Tea, I was sure that kimono was part of it. The beautiful fabric the intricate obi and the flowing sleeves added to my first experience of Tea. When I started taking Tea lessons, I asked my teacher on the first lesson when would I begin to wear kimono. She would dress me first in yukata with a simple obi. Then she dressed me in more formal kimono for my first Hatsugama and I truly felt beautiful but afraid to move or breathe.

One day she told me that it was time to dress myself. She laid out everything on the bed in the changing room. I struggled with it. Even getting the tight tabi on my feet made we strain and sweat. I didn’t remember what tied where and there were so many layers of undergarments, all wrapped and tied. I wished that I had paid more attention when my teacher was dressing me. Putting on the obi was so hard. I felt like a trussed turkey. I couldn’t breathe because I had tied everything too tight and I couldn’t see or reach behind me to make the obi do what I wanted. It took me 3 and half hours but finally I walked out and my teacher didn’t say anything. She just told me that the time for class was at an end and to take it all off.

I studied for a year in Japan at the Urasenke Tea Headquarters, and we were required to wear kimono every day for tea practice, I dressed in kimono all day as well so that I would become comfortable doing anything in kimono. I attended lectures in kimono, I gardened in kimono, I cleaned toilets in kimono.

Now, because I have practice in dressing and wearing kimono, it is not such scary thing to wear. I feel comfortable in kimono. I mean that I feel comfortable moving around in kimono, but I also feel more formal in kimono. I walk differently, I sit differently, my posture is better, and I seem to be able to concentrate and focus better in the Tea room if I am in kimono. I also found that if I am not in kimono for Tea practice, there is often no place to put things. Kimono has many places to put your Tea things that Western clothes and pockets are just not made for.

For me wearing kimono is absolutely important to my Tea study. As I said previously, I feel different in kimono. Also, when I got to an advanced level of practice, my teacher said that it was time that I dress appropriately for Tea in kimono. She said that if I was not in kimono, I was not serious about upper study. She would let me be guest, but if I wanted to be host, I would have to dress in kimono. Part of the importance of wearing kimono for Tea then, is to show that I am serious about Tea study. But also for me, the discipline of wearing kimono helps to keep my movements appropriate (walking, posture, sitting). It helps me to remember how to hold my arms, keep my head up and back straight.

I try to wear kimono every time I am in the Tea room, no matter if it is a formal event, a public demonstration or for tea class. I do not wear kimono if I am cleaning or gardening any more. My senior students at the headquarters in Japan told me once, that every time I make Tea, no matter what the circumstance, it is the real Tea; to put my heart in it and dedicate myself to serving the guest with every part of my training. For my weekly classes I wear kimono so that as I am putting it on in the dressing room or at home before I drive to class, I am preparing myself to be serious about the coming lesson and serve my guest with all of my training. I wear kimono to public presentations because I want to put on my best. If I show them something about Tea to interest them, they may find that they want to know more about this wonderful practice. I wear kimono to events out of respect for the host and all the work that they have put into preparing the Tea event, I want to dress appropriately.

When doing public Tea presentations, I think the audience expects the participants to be dressed in kimono. Many are looking for an exotic experience, as I was when I saw my first presentation. Many people are first attracted to Tea by many things. It could be sweets, it could be kimono, it could be the calm atmosphere, it could be the Buddhist principles. Whatever appeals to these people to investigate further, I am happy to provide, because Tea is so rich and one never knows when someone’s heart will truly be stolen by Tea no matter how they were first attracted to it.

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