The Bingata Festival

By Chidera Onyeka

As students in the Japanese Plus program, we get a lot of opportunities to experience Japanese culture through festivals. One I attended was the Bingata festival. Bingata is the traditional art of dyeing cloth. It’s a time consuming process in which a special paint is brushed onto a special cloth with a specific motion in a certain order. Once the design is finished, it must sit for 3 days to let the color sink in and then ironed, soaked, and then air-dried.

Before we made our own Bingata, we took a tour around two floors where there were myriad kimonos. I saw a group of people wearing beeaauutiful kimonos and I had to ask them where they got them from. They told me that there are communities online that guide you to making the whole outfit (because they also wore a lot of other accessories including a fan). They pointed out that the kimono required a lot of patience and skill. After a talk about how I could make them myself, they told me I could just take the easy way out and buy it online for up to $20. So after taking pictures of different cloth designs, just wandering around with Daniel Ruiz, we made our way down to the Bingata workshop, where we had a sensei who gave us instructions in Japanese.

For my own interpretation, I was able to pick out a word here and there but still had no idea what we had to do. Luckily, we had a translator explain to us what to do in English. During the process, I managed to mess up once and be told that I couldn’t fix my mistake and then mess up the exact same way again. Then once we were finished, the leader of the workshop announced that they would pick out the best paintings from each group and make them sumo wrestle for a prize… and I was skeptical about it because half of the room was full of kids no older that 10 and the other half were adults along with 10th graders and 11th graders. Good thing they didn’t follow through with the idea because I don’t know how I would have reacted to a 17 year old and a 9 year old in a mawashi (what sumo wrestlers wear) fighting to the death. Well maybe not to the death but until time is called or someone wins. It was after everyone was done with their designs that we were told about how to soak it to “erase” the paint outside. Ironically, we were told to paint outside the lines and just glop the paint on there and shove it around.

At the end of the day, I was really excited to soak my cloth and I couldn’t wait 3 days but being a perfectionist and someone who’s a magnet to instructions, I forced myself to. In the end, I learned about a method of traditional Japanese art. It taught me to be patient and worry-free with my art because art isn’t just something I can always conjure up in an hour. It taught me that to achieve true beauty, it takes time, and relaxation. The event was very helpful to me because I tend to do those exact things, rushing and worrying too much about it looking good, when I draw. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested not only in art, but in Japanese culture.

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