Sunday, November 25, 2012 was the regional contest kimono dressing contest for the Chuugoku and Shikoku regions (covering nine prefectures). This year it was hosted in Kochi City, with the winners earning the right to go on to the competition in Tokyo in April.

Though only two of us were entering from Matsue this year, we went with a group of eight–three Senseis busy working, and three drivers and photographers to cheer us on. On Saturday we got to do a little sight seeing in Kochi (I wonder what Sakamoto Ryouma would think if he saw how much merchandise there is in his name?), but Sunday we handed ourselves over to be vessals of the Japanese spirit, purveyors of tradition, and models of proper kimono behavior (ha!).

Sunday started with an early appointment at the beauty parlor to have our hair done. We weren’t even the first people there!

90 minutes and some terrible amount of damage to the ozone layer later, my “Nihongami” (Japanese hairstyle) was finished. I got a lot of stares and comments on the walk back to the hotel, where I ate my breakfast and then did my stage makeup and got myself dressed to go. For the first time, my 16 pieces of kimono underwear stayed in place for not only a couple hours worth of wear, but the whole nine hours I was dressed in them. That is a huge relief! There were so many practices with the entire shape was ruined because some layer of my undergarments had slipped out of place.

You might notice that the collar is attached to nothing but itself and the sleeves seem a little bare. For this level of competition that much was fine, but in other levels an additional full-length layer–complete with full length sleeves–is necessary. A few of my fellow foreign participants were using those anyway.

It was right about then that I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. An hour later or so during the rehearsal, it was starting to become more clear. “Oh, duh!” it finally dawned on me. “This isn’t just a skills competition. This is a beauty pageant!”

I spent many hours backstage in the room prepared for the ten female foreign participants (there were two male participants else where). Besides Xiao Man and I, there were three Kochi CIRs, two Kochi interns, four Okayama exchange students, and one Ehime English tutor, hailing from America, China, Korea, Paraguay, and Brazil, and all conversing in Japanese. All ten of us girls were dressed in furisode, so it made for a very brilliant, florid atmosphere. Seeing all the different patterns and accessories and colors was fun, and I had worn a more subdued, casual kimono, I would have stuck out!

In the spirit of doing things in the Japanese spirit, they provided bentou (boxed lunches) with many different small servings as opposed to large servings of fewer items.

Seeing as kimono were never designed for sitting in western style chairs and I didn’t trust myself not to spill my bentou if I held it while kneeling, I can’t say I retained my Japanese poise and grace backstage. In hindsight, I probably should have tried to embody more of the spirit that came with the garment, shouldn’t I? That’s something I’d like to work on…

Then came our turn to perfom. Over the course of my practices I’ve gotten plenty of experience in making mistakes–and therefore gotten experience in learning how to fix them. This time, however, I did something completely new. Based on the steps I showed in this entry, these graphics may or may not make sense:

I could tell something was wrong, but I decided to continue anyway since that would be the inside fold instead of the outside fold that get wrapped around my waist. Thankfully it didn’t cause any terribly obvious problems (this whole time, I was worried most about making some mistake that would leave me half-dressed), but I was a little slow as usual, and barely finished second to last. In my hurry, I only half-way adjusted the flowers on my back. They should be pulled straight against my back to hide any gaps or tools, but I didn’t pull them close enough, probably leaving some gaps and tools exposed.

After smiling and posing and walking on stage with what hopefully was a little bit of grace, I didn’t get a chance to examine myself before Sensei caught me in the hall and fixed it, so I have no idea just how much of a gap was exposed!

Oh well. Seeing as many other participants were walking around with their biyousugata showing, I didn’t feel too embarrassed by it. I’d like to learn how to dress myself properly without one, though.

My obijime came out well, though. This was a method I accidentally created early on in my practices, and Sensei and I decided we liked it enough to keep it. We called it “Burikko-musubi”: “musubi” is a term for a method of tying things, and “burikko” is slang for a girl who puts on a cute act. The more obvious pun is that it sounds like my name (and as Xiao Man adds, it’s like a combination of our Japanese names!).

After the competitions and while prizes and certificates were being prepared, there were other presentations on stage, including the “Hana-musubi” (flower-tying) my Sensei and some number of others were busy with.

A couple hours later, we returned to the stage for the award results. They were announced in quite ceremonious fashion, including music before each 3rd, 2nd and 1st place announcement, and a dramatic oration of the 1st place certificates, with everyone on stage the entire time. The poor kids were having a lot of trouble standing still by the end of it and were making faces and playing with their consolation medals.

As we stood lined up and waiting for the results they slowly announced, I was both hoping to place as proof of having worked hard for it, and hoping not to so as to take a break from practicing instead of preparing for the national/world competition in Tokyo! They announced everything by entrant number (I was #2) followed by name, so as they finally got to the final announcement for the foreigner category, I was only half-listening. When they said “number 1”, my mind jumped to “Entrant #1? That’s Xiao Man, my practice partner! She won!!”

“Oh, no, that’s not right,” I caught myself after flashing an excited smile at her. “They said first place, not Number 1.”

And then they did say her number. Xiao Man won!

I’m very proud of her (and a little relieved it wasn’t me), but Sensei and everyone who went with us to root us on were treating me very delicately afterward, saying things like “it was really good that you remembered to smile at the judges and greet them properly!” and “she won because you helped her practice!” Hahaha, no! That was all her effort, I just happened to be next to her for a lot of that effort! I suppose it would have been nice to place, but I don’t mind. Not having fixed my obi is a little regretable, but overall I’m very satisfied. I didn’t keep track of where the winners in the other categories were from, but even though we came from the furthest prefectures, it seems the participants from Shimane and Tottori did really well. Good job, San’in Region!

Well, so much for my results in the foreigner category.

I supposed a little proof is necessary that I didn’t act like such a dork for the entire day. I’d like to think I have a little of this Japanese spirit, too!

It’s worth noting that Nihongami takes about as much effort to take out as it does to put up.

My hair has had about as much as it can handle, but Sensei is already talking about next year’s competition in Hiroshima…

UPDATE! I’m starting practice for this year’s competition after all!