1. Short in stature, energetic and generous, Kumiko Keida has been a Kimono master for more than 30 years. She has travelled the world as a cultural ambassador for Japan, sharing her skills and knowledge in Kitsuke (the art of dressing someone in a kimono) and Japanese flower arranging.

    Keida sensei is a phenomenal woman. She believes in keeping Japanese tradition alive by teaching young men and women about Kitsuke at her school in Shimbara. She clothes all the participants for all of the festivals held in Shimabara city and is the sole person behind the beautiful (and huge!) flower arrangements seen in the small shopping arcade in Shimabara.

    We first met through a mutual friend at one of the cultural festivals in Shimabara. We fell in love with each other. I fell in love with her warm spirit, her energy and awesome magenta lipstick. She fell in love with my hair (the magic is in the hair). A few weeks later after my photoshoot, I asked my friend Fumi and the photographers if they knew anyone who I would be able to rent a Kimono from for one day to take a few pictures. Everyone called who they knew and ended up giving me crazy rental fees. $200-$300 USD for my makeup and hair (wasn’t necessary but it’s part of the package) and to rent a kimono for a day. When Fumi called Keida sensei, she didn’t hesitate to offer me a Kimono for the day. We set a date to meet and try on a few kimonos to see which one I would wear to the photoshoot. 

    At around 2pm today, Fumi and I drove to her house. A beautiful traditional Japanese style house enclosed in flowers. She came out in her traditional kimono smiling from ear to ear, wearing her magenta lipstick of course. 
    She had chosen three kimonos for me, a purple one, a green one and a yellow one. The one that caught my eye was a beautiful gold one folded neatly on the floor.  I pointed at it and she laughed and said ‘OK! She then showed me her entire collection of traditional wedding Kimonos. I was in awe. The colors, the patterns, the detailed embroidery! Everything was so beautiful, so delicate, so intricate and so Japanese! These weren’t the fake screen printed or manufactured kimonos. These were the real deal. She told Fumi to translate what she was about to say into English. When Fumi listened, she gasped and started laughing and clapping her hands. “She wants you to have one of her kimonos!!” At that point, I wanted to put up my praise hands, do a shankle dip, followed by a dougie, willie bounce and a bogle wine. I had to hold the tears back while I bowed as low as possible and pretty much got on my knees to thank this woman for giving me a piece of her. 

    Just the other day I was telling a friend of mine that I probably won’t be able to buy a kimono because of how expensive they are (between $800 USD-$2,000 USD for a reasonable one). A yukata (summer kimono which is lighter in fabric and usually cheaper) would have to suffice. The kimono that she gave me has travelled the world and been on display in several countries. Instead of wearing it, I’ll frame it when I return home. I’ll still buy my yukata to wear to functions or on special occasions. 

    After putting on the kimono that I had chosen for the shoot, Keida sensei started telling us stories about her travels. She once gave Grace Kelly’s son, Prince Albert II, a men’s kimono. When she visited the UK, she also gave Princess Diana a kimono. She showed me pictures of her trips to the UK, Belgium (I was so excited when I saw those pictures), Greece, Holland, Germany and the US. I told her that her next stop needs to be Trinidad and Tobago, she nodded in agreement.  

    I changed back into my clothes, we had tea and we chatted about the upcoming photoshoot. This little old lady with so much life, so many stories and such a warm heart, managed to make my two years of being in Japan more than worth it in less than 2 hours. 

    I told myself that 2013 would be a year of dreams. I really must be dreaming. 

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    Absolutely beautiful. :)
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