With this likely being my last kimono competition, I changed things up with a slightly new style again–yet again of my own creation, now that I’m getting the hang of how this works. While I had already mixed things up a bit by doing a bunko style bow to try to stick out among a lot of the participants doing fukura-suzume style, I wanted to make sure I’ll really stand out on the NHK stage in April.

“Sensei,” I said, “I want more black!”

We discussed the prospects in a way that sounded like a teen arguing with their grandmother about wearing so much black. “More black!” and “Yes, I understand you like that, but…!” Her hesitance was less about how much many more cheerful colors there are to wear instead, and more about how you don’t typically show very much of the reverse side of the obi (belt) unless it’s a somber occasion, whereas the swinging-sleeves furisode style kimono is for very festive occasions. By the way, that fukura-suzume? It’s as festive as you can get, even if it’s comparatively easy to construct. However, getting to the world competition means I have a little more room to take a risk, and seeing as the proper side of my obi is rather light-colored, I want to make sure it will make more of an impact. Plus, the reverse side has a butterfly pattern I like, though that’s all for my own personal satisfaction.

As we experimented during one of the regular lesson times, we asked the opinions of other practitioners present, and as much as fun as Kimono-sensei was having with it, she still wasn’t sure how far it would be okay to stray from commonly accepted ways of doing things. She called another Kimono-sensei for a second opinion, who said, “Sure! Sounds innovative! Go for it!”

So we’re going for it.

Green circles: Ideally, these points should poke over my shoulders just a little so they are visible from the front view–but they should be as even as possible.

Pink circle: Showing this much black as an accent is unusual, which is why I’m hoping it will catch the judges’ attention. The folds should be obvious and provide an interesting texture, so that it would show I’m not just able to innovate, but I’m able to innovate well. If you can’t see the folds, it will just look weird and halfway done.

Yellow circle: As much as possible, these two sides should be even. I pulled part of it a little too low–oops!

Blue line: The line where both side of my obi meet each other will be a crucial point the judges are looking at on a bunko style obi. They should create a smooth line along the bottom, there should be a clear diagonal line where they meet, and the plastic piece of my biyou-sugata tool I use to but it on shouldn’t be visible. This is very hard to get right! Many people choose to do a fukura-suzume style because this part is completely covered up, so you don’t have to worry it.

I’m very pleased with the style we came up with, which I have since experimented more on so as to be able to do it faster (it usually takes me about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, give or take).

What I’m not pleased with is everything that still goes wrong when I’m practicing, like how my collar always falls forward as I’m leaning over to fold the obi.

Or how the velcro on some of my tools tends to stick to the wrong tools.

Or how the snaps on the biyou-sugata sometimes come undone.

Practicing takes a lot of time out of my schedule since the prep and clean-up take so long (though the part I’d do on stage typically takes me 8~9.5 minutes). I’m trying to enjoy it rather than let the frustration get to me, because as much as I would have dreamed about ten years ago (or even five, or three years ago!), I never thought I’d wear a furisode, much less any kimono quite so often. After I give my borrowed materials back to Kimono-sensei in spring, I may not have such an opportunity again. I owe it to my teenage and college and grad student self to make the very most of this.

Tiring though this sort of practice can be, sometimes all it takes is a peek at the hair accessories to get me excited for this experience again. As much as I can complain about nihongami (and that I’ll have to sleep with it partially sculpted the night before), it’s not worth complaining because I’m really looking forward seeing the ensemble all put together. Perhaps some of the reason I get a little burnt out with it is because I’m always practicing in fully festive furisode but with normal hair, so it lacks the full punch it should have. Trying it out with a dangling hair accessory was exactly the inspiration I needed! It’s sort of large, so I hope I’ll be assigned a hair dresser that won’t hold back on sculpting the look. I want to have as much fun with the furisode aesthetic as I can, pushing the boundaries of hanayaka (florid showiness) without crossing into “weird” territory, especially since I will once again be surrounded by many other people’s unique and gorgeous ensembles.

And, yeah, winning a world competition would be pretty cool too. I’ll keep doing my best with these last weeks of practice.

With any luck, the cherry blossoms will be in bloom on the day of the contest.