Equinox

Today was a public holiday in Japan, the Autumnal Equinox Day or Shubun no Hi. Nowadays the idea is to say thank you for the harvest, a sort of thanksgiving. The holiday is a modernized version of what was called Shu Ki Koreisai, a day to pay respects to past emperors and the imperial family in general, introduced in 1878. And this day in turn probably goes back to ancestor worship in China. Note that the spring equinox is also a national holiday in Japan, with the same idea behind it.

When I was finished with my daily Japanese lesson today, I betook myself to a very small local matsuri in Omiya street, near the crossing with Imadegawa. It is in the old district of the weavers and cloth makers, and you could go into some of the old merchant’s houses and have a look. They are beautifully restored and many old pieces of furniture were on display, together with some of the traditional tools they were using. The houses had a room or two in front that once featured as a shop, then there was a small Japanese garden, and a narrow corridor next to it would lead to the private rooms at the back.

In several houses beautiful kimono were on display, and in one of them, I could watch a kimono painter at work. He was a man of at most 60 years, working in what is called the yuzen dying technique, and he explained that each of his kimonos consisted of 30 meters of silk (strips about 40-50 centimetres wide) and that one hand painted kimono needed 15 different steps of handiwork until its completion. Apparently the price for his garments is reasonable, considered that all of the work is done by hand, but I did not dare ask for a number. Unfortunately he did not answer my question as to how many hours of work one such kimono would need. It seems however, that the demand for this type of work is steadily on the decline, first because people don’t wear kimono anymore, and if they do for a special occasion here or there, the price is probably prohibitive in any case.

 

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