It has been said that in Japan, people dress for the calendar date instead of the weather. I’m inclined to agree.

When traveling or living in another culture, it’s always worth taking note of how your wardrobe compares to the level of modesty and neatness of those around you so as to be respectful. When preparing to live in Japan, one piece of advice I heard here and there is that people will not tell you directly if you’re showing too much skin, but instead will ask if you’re cold as an indirect way of saying “cover up! That’s not appropriate!” In my experience, I’ve been asked this a few times when wearing short sleeves, but I think the surprise is less about it being immodest and more about how no one else is doing it–at least not on that particular date. This is very different from the culture in which I grew up, in which dressing in layers for the sake of being able to add and remove layers so as to adjust to changing temperatures indoors or outdoors is commonplace and considered practical. In many places around the world, however, practicality is not of prime importance when it comes to fashion choices (especially if kimono are any indication of that).

Furthermore, when it comes to the calendar date, it’s not just clothing that adjusts to fit the theme. In the tea ceremony as well, there are a lot of tools used seasonally, or you switch between summer and winter tools at specific times of year. They don’t match up exactly, however–it’s more chic in Japanese aesthetics to use a motif of some occurence in nature that hasn’t quite started yet. For instance, wearing a kimono or using a tea cup with cherry blossoms in full bloom is a way of saying “look what’s coming soon!” but if you were to use them in full bloom, it would feel a little like you’re trying to upstage nature. Furthermore, using them just after the event would just make you look like you’re behind in the season. Keep in mind that these are general ideas, not hard and fast rules, and there is a lot of flexibility allowed in appropriateness. However, in part due to the tendency to use motifs a little in advance, and in part due to the one-month speed-up of the old holidays with the new calendar, you find some seasonal changes being made long before it would make practical sense to do them. This especially drives me a little crazy towards the later parts of summer and winter, when the tools have already changed before the weather has, which means we’re using tools for hot weather when it’s still chilly outside or using tools for cold weather when it’s still hot and humid!

But alas, practical sense and aesthetic sense are not always in agreement, though it’s especially nice to appreciate both senses when they align on the right calendar dates.

Be on the look-out for some spring-themed entries coming up, full of snapshots… however fashionably late they are.