by Lily McFeeters, CCI Greenheart Travel High School Exchange Student in Japan
Grampa Greg is still a young blood at 77. Nana Rosemary just celebrated her 80th birthday in May, and Poppop Stan celebrated his 90th last December. I am so fortunate to have such a loving relationship with all three of them. I would like to devote this next post to Obaa-san, my host grandmother.
At 72 years old, Nobuyo Shono is quite an extraordinary person. Back in March when I first arrived at her home, it was so dark I could barely make out anything in the yard. The next morning, I found myself in Obaa-san’s garden full of many beautiful and exotic flowers. Across the front picture window there are so many hanging flowerpots that you can barely see outside.
Besides folk dancing, Obaa-san, like most everyone in Japan, loves karaoke. She even goes to karaoke lessons. Everyone is in such a good mood after a good karaoke session, as evidenced by my host-sister, Momo-chan and Obaa-san!
Early one Sunday morning, Obaa-san told me that she and I would be going to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History in Himeji, a city about 30 minutes to the south of Kakogawa, the city I’m living in. She explained that this was a special day for me because I would be dressed in a seven-layer replica of a junihitoe, a 12-layer kimono from the ninth century Heian Period, a rare opportunity for anyone. This sounded very exciting to me!
Kimono translates simply as a “thing to wear.” Kimonos have been fashionable in Japan since the 8th century for both men and women, and many kimonos are considered great works of art. When we arrived at the museum, we watched another girl being fitted.
Obaa-san commented that the fabric looked heavy and I agreed. Being dressed in the kimono required two women who took turns wrapping a sash around the girl’s waist. The women then added another layer of fabric. The sash, which had held the layer of fabric beneath it in place, was then removed, and so on, until all the layers had been added.
Now it was my turn. I tied my hair up and tried to keep my arms in just the right place so that they stayed out of the way. As each layer was added, Obaa-san used my camera to document this once in a lifetime experience. The whole process only took about 10 minutes.
The kimono actually felt heavier than I expected, a total of 13 kg (28+ lbs). The fabric was exquisite and probably very expensive. This kimono most certainly would take someone with real poise to gracefully maneuver from point A to point B.
Even so, once I was fully dressed, I felt quite regal to be wearing such an ornate garment. I realized how lucky I was to be able to experience this and grateful to Obaa-san for making the arrangements.
Next, a docent gave us a tour of the museum. Although my Japanese was not very fluent, I still enjoyed seeing the beautiful works of art on display.
The city of Himeji is famous for its castle, Himeji Jō. We thought about going inside, but there was a two-hour wait and the top was under construction. So we walked around the park, which is known for its cherry blossoms.
Obaa-san spotted a man dressed as a ninja but he appeared to be leaving the park. I chuckled to myself as I watched Obaa-san run after him calling in Japanese, “Ninja-san! Ninja-san! Can she take a picture with you?” Ninja-san graciously agreed to take a picture with me. He was really into his character!
As if we hadn’t had enough adventure for one day, we then went to a Shinto shrine! Almost everyone in Japan observes some form of Shintoism, the ancient, indigenous religion of Japan. This was something I had really been looking forward to since before I came here.
It was even more special to me because there was a wedding taking place. Suddenly the bride and her mother came out of the shrine. Just as they looked over at me, they smiled and I managed to snap their picture. I love this photo because it captures just how happy they were on this very festive occasion.
I was completely exhausted by the end of this action-packed day. I don’t know how Obaa-san does it. Her cooking is always delicious. She makes all of our meals, including the bentō (home-packed lunches) Momo-chan and I take to school. She took me to the doctor 4 times when I was sick. (I’m better now!) She drives me to the store whenever I need anything. Above all, Obaa-san takes very good care of me, makes me feel very much at home, and I really enjoy talking with her in Japanese.
She is taking me shopping this weekend to look for a yukata, a lighter, more casual, cotton kimono. These are much more affordable then traditional kimonos and are often worn during outdoor summer festivities. I will be wearing my yukata with my tea ceremony club in the school bunkasai (cultural festival), which takes place in mid-June.
In Japan, the bathroom is a room with only a bathtub and shower head. When you bathe, you shower first, and once you’re clean, you take a bath. Because everyone is clean when they take a bath, family members use the same bathwater for that day. Obaa-san had Momo-chan and me take a bath together the first night I arrived. I thought it was because she wanted Momo-chan to show me how to use the bath fixtures properly. Later, Obaa-san explained to me that there is special meaning in bathing together since “you can’t hide anything.”
Now I know I’m part of the family.