Thursday, 24 January 2008

Aoyama Kimono Gakuin DVDs

I was given a small kimono collection just before my wedding and was dressed professionally for the big day (by Mie at Moga)

That was enough to get hooked. I just don't have it in me to let these garments sit and rot, unused, in a drawer. Figuring out how to wear them is neither intuitive nor straightforward so I quickly realised I had a challenge on my hands.

I bought "The Book of Kimono" by Norio Yamanaka - which, whilst it did answer some questions, just left me more confused than ever. On too many occasions, following his directions with an obi belt in hand resulted in a joyless exercise in frustration.

Knowing there had to be a better way, I found the website for the Aoyama Kimono School in Tokyo. They teach kitsuke - how to dress - techniques.

Aoyama Kimono offer three DVDs

The main one
Is a comprehensive guide which shows you all the basics - which underwear you need, padding options, how to sew on collars, how to put on both an all-in-one 'undergown' juban and the two-part kind. It shows you how to put on, adjust, and create a fold in a kimono, how to make a drum bow with a Nagoya obi as well as a full obi and instructions for two half-obi (hanhaba obi) bows/ties are also included. The hanhaba ties are also suitable to wear with yukata (cotton kimono for the summer months).

The instructions are very clear and can be easily followed by someone with no knowledge of Japanese.

The link shows a preview video. This DVD runs for 90 minutes and costs ¥3,800 - a very reasonable price taken into context (Japanese DVDs are generally more expensive than elsewhere)

For those who expect to only wear a yukata I would recommend this DVD
There is a preview in the Aoyama Kimono web page, but someone has uploaded two segments onto youtube
putting on a yukata
tying a bow
Seeing these youtube clips is what convinced me to buy the entire set.

Two of the bows featured in the Yukata DVD are also in the main kimono DVD, but there are eight bows in all and three additional techniques for customising your obi, so it's still worth getting.

DVD runs for 64 minutes and costs ¥2,940. Again, this is suitable for those with no Japanese language ability.

Link to alternative free online yukata instructions
Underwear advice & more yukata tips
How to tie, neaten & arrange a fashionable 'soft' obi
More soft obi bows and folding kimono for storage

The last DVD is for serious enthusiasts only.

It shows you how to make three difficult bows - one of these would be unadvisable to tie by yourself. The rest of the DVD gives advice about belts and patterns and requires translation.

Nevertheless, the bow instructions are invaluable and can be followed by a non-Japanese speaker. I'm personally very glad to have this DVD.

It runs for 55 minutes and costs ¥2,940.

These DVDs are sold on a cash on delivery basis within Japan.
I bought mine through . This involved a ¥2,000 fee plus postage. The comission wasn't too bad for me as I bought all three DVDs. There are other online companies offering a similar service, some will be cheaper.

Each time I put on a kimono or yukata I seem to get a bit better at it, so there's no substitute for practice. But I believe that these DVDs will teach you all the basics and make an excellent foundation for anyone who wants to learn, easing you to a degree of competency in no time.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Horchata/Orxata - traditional beverage

Horchata has been popular in Spain for centuries (introduced by the Moors and now a summer speciality of the Valencia region). The process is similar to making soy milk but requires no cooking.

It's made with chufas - tiger nuts - which are tiny tubers, gluten and cholesterol free, and sold in health food shops (fishing enthusiasts use them to catch carp and some hunters attract wild turkey with them). They are extremely nutritious.

The drawback is that - as with lots of traditional Spanish food - horchata is generally served with plenty of sugar

250gms tiger nuts
1.25 litres water
200gms sugar
stick cinnamon, strip of unwaxed lemon peel

Wash the tiger nuts as thoroughly as possible. Leave to soak in cold water for 12-15 hours (change the water periodically if you can)
Wash the tiger nuts again and make sure that no traces of dirt remain (water should rinse clear)

Put the tiger nuts and a portion of the 1.25 litres of water in a blender/liquidiser/food processer and whizz until the tiger nuts become a pulp (without water, this can be done with a pestle and mortar if you have the patience).
Combine the wet pulp with the rest of the water and the lemon rind and cinammon and leave the mixture somewhere cool for 2 hours (a fridge is fine).

Sieve the mixture (ideally through muslin), add and dissolve sugar to taste (200/250gms sugar is a guide - experiment to find your own preference) and leave it to cool. Should have the same consistency of soy milk.

If you can’t drink it the same day, freeze what you have left, just don’t keep it in the fridge for too long.

Can be drunk as is or frozen and drunk as slush/granita. It's often mixed in Spain with strong iced coffee.

I've been advised by one of Alicante's best horchaterias (Heladeria Gori) not to use a straw to drink liquid horchata as this will prevent you from appreciating many of the complex flavours.

The main problem with tiger nuts is getting them fresh enough, they aren't so good after a year of storage. They should also be kept well ventilated somewhere cool and dark - they can harbour mold and bacteria if kept in a plastic bag.

It's worth searching out properly made horchata in Spain - many cafes will sell commercially produced liquid which is quite vile. And even the quality from horchaterias can vary - if you can detect a chemical taste it could be because the chufas were cleaned with some kind of bleach. I understand Gori's chufa's go through a special pasteurisation process.

A reputable wholefood store shouldn't sell you chemically washed tigernuts - if you clean them properly I would expect no problems. However, my advice would be not to give horchata to the very young or those with weakened immune systems without medical approval.

Splashproofing Kimono

With the kimono collection growing I needed something to keep them dry.

I was really happy to find and win these on Yahoo Japan Auctions.

Rain clogs and a matching bag (not sure if they qualify as
zōri or geta)

Silk rainproof michiyuki (has a gorgeous luster)

The michiyuki comes down to my ankles and the sleeves are big enough to encase those of most of my garments.
So that no rain splashes up and soils my kimono I intend to draw it up with the under-layer juban hems and pinch them onto my obi belt with a couple of clips so only the susoyoke petticoat covers my lower legs under the michiyuke raincoat.
A perfect example of what I mean is demonstrated in Kimonojin's blog