Pop stars flaunting kimonos and traditional headdresses, overpriced bowls of ramen in hipster restaurants, tattoos of misspelled Japanese characters—all of this hits close to home for me.
Growing up in a country where I was ridiculed for what I ate and my slender eyes, I grew increasingly defensive about anyone interpreting my culture. I felt a stirring of that reaction when I heard about Meishin Kyudojo. I had stumbled across a flyer for the Japanese archery dojo at Toyo Shokuhin in Cary while stocking up on cod roe spaghetti sauce and seasoned seaweed.
Suspicious that it might be another blatant appropriation of my heritage, I did some research and learned that Apex's Dan and Jackie DeProspero had been operating the kyudojo in "conformance with all Nippon Kyudo Federation procedural standards" in their backyard for years.
Intrigued, but still not completely convinced, my boyfriend and I drive there one Saturday morning for a closer look. The air is still a bit brisk from the morning chill. A thick forest of tall maples and slim evergreens surrounds the DeProsperos' property. A stone walkway leads behind the house and up to the kyudojo.
Dan DeProspero is the first to greet me. Jackie, who helps him run the kyudojo, is absent for this morning's practice. A sturdy man in his sixties, DeProspero has a whitening beard, and might make an excellent Santa Claus in the not-too-distant future. He's wearing keiko-gi, or practice kyudo attire, made up of a top, a skirt, socks, and a belt. To a layperson, it looks like a cross between a casual white kimono and a bathrobe. A bundle of bows and arrows is slung over his shoulder.
DeProspero moves aside the guard rock at the head of the walkway to the kyudojo, indicating that a class is in session. At the end of the path stands an older, lanky man, Elmar Schmeisser, who waves to us from just inside the doorway. As we approach the genkan, or entrance, DeProspero and Schmeisser instruct us to take off our shoes but keep our socks on. As I try to step from the stone genkan onto the wooden flooring of the kyudojo, DeProspero and Schmeisser exclaim, "No!"
I had tried to put my shoes on the wooden floor. Taken aback by their reaction, I step on the stone genkan with my now shoeless feet. This too, elicits cries of disapproval.
The proper way to enter the kyudojo, DeProspero teaches me, is to remove your shoes, leave them on the stone, and then step onto the wooden flooring in your socks. Done any other way, it's seen as bringing the outdoors into the space of the kyudojo. I am quickly realizing that DeProspero and his students take their kyudo practice very seriously.
"These younger Japanese," chuckles DeProspero, once we've entered correctly.