Sunday, July 19, 2015

Japanese elegance in Los Angeles

One of my lovely readers ‘C’ in Los Angeles left a comment on Janice’s fabulous blog The Vivienne Files when she won a bracelet giveaway recently.  C and I converse via email from time to time so I told her how much I loved what she’d said in the Vivienne Files comment (below) the next time we communicated:

'I thank my late mother for instilling in me colors that are "still" and "unobtrusive" ---"shibui" in Japanese.'

I thought these words so beautiful and almost shimmering with calm, that I asked if C would mind sharing a few thoughts about her Japanese mother.  She graciously wrote a sweet piece which I am so happy to share with you.

‘When I was about four years old, my older sister, a whopping two years older than me, one day looked at me and pronounced “your clothes aren’t ‘kordinated’.” Stymied, I asked what she meant. “Your clothes don’t match!” she laughed. Defensively, I replied “they are my very best favorite clothes and I don’t care if they don’t match!”

I was wearing pink elastic waist shorts with white polka dots, with my absolute favorite horizontally striped tee shirt—white, turquoise, black and maroon.  Since then, I have been the recipient of advice and good-natured criticism of three older sisters. To no avail. But, by example, I hope I have, through some kind of fashion osmosis picked up some fashion sense from my mother, born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan.

My mother’s family lived atop a hill in a bamboo grove, reached by a dirt path in those days, unlit of course. In the fall, the dense foliage was broken by the brilliant beacon of persimmons shining through the foliage of the hill. In the spring, cherry blossoms peeked cheerily here and there.

Surrounded as she was by nature, it was no wonder her entire lifestyle was imbued with a sense of serenity and nature.  The word she used was “shizen” which connotes so much more than “nature” – more like “naturally occurring.” 

Even when she moved (permanently, to her chagrin) to Southern California, she retained that sense of serenity in her clothing and surroundings. Not for her the bright and garishly happy colors of her adopted country. Perhaps by clinging to her innate sense of solemnity and subdued colors, she was, however tenuously, clinging also to her homeland, which she would visit more often in her mind than in reality.’

‘The Interview’

I also asked C a few questions about her late mother and she was kind enough to answer them.  I think Japanese women are so different from other cultures.  They seem very soft and feminine yet strong in their way of being, and I love the elegant simplicity of the Japanese way of life.

What colours do you consider to be ‘still’ and ‘unobtrusive’?
Colors I consider still/unobtrusive are muted and "non-flashy".  I don't mean to imply "dull," but more of an understated presence, like gray, navy and earth tones including the more substantial shades of brown and green.

What colours did your mother favour?
Colors my mother favored include deep, rich purple ("murasaki"); subdued yet cheery pink; and her favorite lucky color for Las Vegas: sunny yellow!

What percentage do you think you are US versus Japanese in the way you live and dress?
My sister claims I have through the years become more Americanized, but have still retained the "Japanese-isms" instilled in me by both parents.

Have you carried any Japanese traditions forward into your daily life from your mother?
Japanese traditions I still retain: taking my shoes off upon entering a home; saying "itadakimasu" before partaking of a meal.  This is not really a prayer, more of a "thank you for the food" but literally meaning "I will eat"; listening more than speaking, but I am not sure if this is a Japanese thing, or more that my mother did not speak English, so was of course limited in that way. I could go on and on - how I still eat "ozoni"  (rice cake in broth traditionally eaten on New Year's morning for good luck). I still complain to my sister that I am waiting in vain for that good luck, and she replies with her usual "Yes, but just think how your luck might be if you DIDN"T eat it!"  Ever sensible.

I can imagine your mother being very elegant, soft and feminine in the way she moved.  Was this true?  Do you think this has influenced how you carry yourself?
Not sure if I would have described my mother as soft and feminine. On her mother's side she was of samurai descent, so she was, I would say, elegant and refined but with a spine made of steel and a will made of iron. Always reserved, always quiet and subdued, she taught by action rather than word. She was of a rare and disappearing breed. The poor remnants of which I carry on, but not nearly in the understated magnificence that was her essence.

I loved hearing your answers C, and reading the piece on your mother too.  It was a treat to get to know your mother and your Japanese heritage.  Thank you very, very much for being so obliging.

To my dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this post too!


  1. What a wonderful post Fiona. C's mother sounds exactly as I would imagine - strong but elegant! I think i am going to imagine myself as a japanese woman tomorrow gliding through my day :)

  2. Lovely interview! I have always been intrigued by the Japanese culture. :)

  3. what a fascinating peek into japanese culture. thank you so much for sharing C! and thank you fiona. x

  4. Thank you Fiona, This post is wonderful. Along with being in love with France I am also in love with Japan. My mother is also Japanese and has also greatly influenced me in traditional Japanese aesthetics and lifestyle. Simplicity, respect, and quiet elegance is my goal. Also, quality over quantity, I could go on and on... So much of French and Japanese culture parallel each other in this sense.

    When I have to remind myself to be polite, well-mannered (respectful), and patient, I am immediately reminded of Japan where it is permeates the culture there.

    xx, D.

  5. Thank you all for your kind words, my mother would have been so pleased that something of her essence has reached out and touched your lives. Each time I am able to gaze at the riveting sunsets with skies streaked with orange, purple, and gold, I hold Gino Starlite (one of my cats) in my arms and we send our love and greetings out to my mother, secure in the knowledge that somewhere out there, she is looking out for us, and for you all too. When I feel a cool breeze in return, I know she is there. Again, sincere thanks!
    C in L.A.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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