Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin
Showing posts with label Edo period. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edo period. Show all posts

Saturday, 3 January 2015

An Obi and Japanese New Year Felicitations

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You,

Times of year -

"On the first day of the year, the sky is gloriously fresh and spring mists hang in the air. It's quite special and delightful the way people everywhere have taken particular care over their clothing and makeup, and go about exchanging New Year felicitations." 

So writes Sei Shonagon in "The Pillow Book" at the Height of the Heian period (794 - 1186). Heian means 'peace and tranquility'. Sei Shonagun - born around 966 - became a gentlewoman for service of court to the Empress Teishi in spring 993, when she was in her late twenties, ten years older than the Empress.
I took the book, a Penguin Classics translated by Meredith McKinney, up again after I looked at my lovely birthday present: an old obi - the long sash for traditional kimonos.
It is 30cm (12 in) wide and about 4 metres (13ft) long (I hung it double on the wall).
I found it at an very interesting vintage shop in Berlin (address at the end of the post), and for a while I couldn't decide whether I wanted this one or another. The owner gave me 3 days to think about it - but when I came back (to buy both), she said: "I'm sorry - one is sold." I asked breathlessly: "Which one?" - for at that moment I knew exactly which one I wanted - and, good luck: it was still there!
(Insight: This is an excellent method when you can't decide: ask yourself which of the two alternatives you would choose in a second - and how would you feel if it were gone?)
The obi became part of traditional clothing in the Edo period (1600-1868); in the Meiji era (1868-1912) the textile industry witnessed a revolution with the advent of electric weaving looms from the West. Modern Japanese women don't wear obis any more, so the industry declined, and old obis became rare - vintage maru obis being the most valuable "as the patina of the gold thread resembles that of of an old tapestry". ( 
Husband was very happy to have a birthday present that pleased me so well. I own two old kimonos (yes... one is pink - to be more accurate: rose petal coloured) and they are very, very long. I mean: I am 1.78m = 5.839 feet - so how could a tiny little Japanese woman wear them? Of course with an obi. And than husband and I philosophised on the way women were seen at that time: almost immobilized by the dress (silk is heavy), those Getas (high shoes), and a face powdered to a mask, laquered hair: beautiful and doll-like. But never underestimate women: the Pillow book of Sei Shonagon shows us that she observed a lot, had an opinion of her own, and was really interesting in her thoughts.
(Insight: Fascinating thoughts can be hidden behind a painted face - so don't judge a book by its cover).
When husband described my decoration intention for hanging up the obi, he said to our son -
Yes, yes!: the biggest birthday surprise for me! Son&DiL came to visit us on their way back from Prague: the best birthday present at all! -
"Britta wants to hint at a the impression of a Himmelbett, a word she only can say in English: a four-poster bed." (Not true: of course I know Himmelbett - but it is not exactly the same).

©Brigitta Huegel

When you start to look up things - the history of kimonos, of obis etc. - you soon get carried away and ramble on - so I became interested in the meaning of the peacocks. In Buddhism the peacock is a symbol of wisdom, and they are compared to bodhisattvas because they can swallow poisonous plants without being hurt - as a bodhisattva can take the toxin of human emotions while still attaining Enlightenment.
'In Japan the peacock (Kujaku) is the emblem of love, compassionate watchfulness, nurturing and kind-heartedness.'
Both explanations please me.
A Happy New Year to you, my blogger friends! 

PS: The wonderful little vintage shop in Berlin-Charlottenburg is called "Be A Diva", and you find kimonos, selected vintage and jewellery, and its owner, Michèle Orlia, is a well-known film-make-up artist (