Both my grandmothers wore kimonos every day until they died. When my maternal grandmother visited us in Singapore, she came wearing her usual layers of kimono, a hadajiban undergarment, a luxuriously thick silk kimono and an even heavier silk obi wrap on top. We called this grandmother Koracho Baaba to locate her in the Koracho ward of Tokyo. Fanning herself with a sensu fan she kept tucked in her obi wrap Koracho Baaba would say:
“At least I don’t have to wear one of those chichi bando you wear with western clothes.” Motioning around her chest she’d add, “those teat bands must be so terribly constraining. Hot.”
We called my paternal grandmother, Tonari no Baaba or Next Door Grandma until she graduated to become Shita no Baaba or Downstairs Grandma when we moved to a high-rise with us on the 10th floor and Downstairs Baaba on the 7th floor. This grandmother also wore a kimono every day and never dreamed of wearing a cooler cotton yukata even though she did whip one up for me on discovering I had grown too fast one year.
There was a lot of gossip about Downstairs Grandma, mostly about how she showed too much celebrity geisha-style nape of the neck. Way too cool to care, the 1930s pinup girl featured above continued to wear her extravagant silk kimonos anyway, sometimes flashing her obidome jewelry thread through the cords she wore over her sash.
I fortuitously inherited five of Downstairs Baaba’s objime cords, in bright reds and purples previously reserved exclusively for the imperial household. The opening of Japan led to the legalization of western synthetic dyes in the Meiji era (1868-1912) which meant that any colour imaginable became available to each and every household. By Taisho (1912-1926) and the early part of Showa (1926-1945), everyone was wearing colourful obi over equally vibrant kimonos. Lucky me, whenever I pass the cords on our living room shelf, I get a whiff of incense and time travel back to the 1930s.
We have a series of Grandparents’-ish Days coming up. This Sunday, September 12th is Grandparents’ Day in the US; September 20th is Respect for the Aged in Japan; October 3rd is Grandparents’ Day in the UK. Wherever you are this weekend or on these days coming up, have a wonderful day remembering your grandparents, and celebrating your day if you are one!