It was her first time donning a kimono and Kaitlin Lewis, 16, needed a little help from her obaachan - the Japanese word for grandmother - to get it right.
Terry Lewis (from left) shows her granddaughters Melissa and Kaitlin Lewis a scrapbook from the Japanese Birthday Club. The group meets at a restaurant every month that one of the members has a birthday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Kaitlin and her 19-year-old sister Melissa Lewis donned kimonos belonging to their obaachan Terry Lewis to join her at Myiabi Kyoto Japanese Steak House Thursday for a special evening meeting of the Japanese Birthday Club, which has members from Columbia and Richmond counties.
The sisters could not seem to get the lighter summer fabric of the ukata - or summer - kimono to lie flat and neat like their grandmother's. But they understood it takes practice and advice from their grandmother, an immigrant from Japan who now lives in Augusta.
Most of the club's seven members are native Japanese.
Lewis said members typically wear the formal Japanese dress only for New Years and Christmas meetings, but Thursday's gathering was the last meeting of the year.
The group normally meets for lunch once a month and celebrates anyone who has a birthday, said president Kate Mooney, of Martinez. But with no more birthdays left this year, the formal dinner marks the group's final meeting of the year.
Mooney, who has been in the United States almost 42 years after meeting her husband in Japan, said the club has no dues, rosters or agendas.
"We just get together, speak Japanese and enjoy the food," Mooney said.
Mooney takes group photos at every meeting and puts the best ones in a photo album to show off.
Lewis flipped through the album showing her granddaughters pictures of herself that date back 15 years, when the group started meeting.
It wasn't Melissa Lewis' first time in a kimono or at a group meeting, but she said keeping up with the fast-paced conversation in Japanese can be tough for a non-native speaker such as herself.
"I'll understand a little," she said. "When you are around it and hear it all the time, you can kind of understand, but when you're not ..."
Mooney said the meetings are open to anyone interested in the Japanese culture or language.
"You have to like Japanese food, know how to use chopsticks and want to learn about Japanese culture and language," Mooney said.
The group has had members bring family or others who are not native Japanese speakers to the lunch meetings.
"They don't mind if we talk Japanese," Mooney said. "They want to know, 'What did you say?' and 'What does that mean?"'
But the group is patient and always willing to explain the language, culture or food to interested visitors, Mooney said.
Anyone interested in the group can call Mooney at 855-5038.
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