ALTs realize dream of wearing bridal kimono for festival（念願の祇園祭花嫁衣装）
Three assistant language teachers (ALTs) of English from the United States and Canada created a special memory on June 12 before two of them had to return home, thanks to the special kindness of a hair salon owner.
As the traditional Gion Festival of Aizu-Tajima in the town of Minami-Aizu was canceled for a second year in a row, they were unable to realize their dream of taking part in one of the main elements of the festival: a procession of dozens of women in bridal kimono, parading glamorously through the local community.
Maya McTighe and Abbi Conley of the United States and Erika Csanyi of Canada instead had the opportunity to be dressed in Japanese bridal costume and photographed in front of a festival float.
"I wanted them to experience Japanese culture," said Yayoko Ogura, proprietress of a local hair salon who has also been engaged for many years in helping women dress in bridal kimono. Her wish helped the trio realize a "procession of women in bridal dress, for just the three of them."
The Gion Festival of Aizu-Tajima, with about 800 years of tradition, has been designated by the central government as an important, intangible folk cultural property. The three women were looking forward to taking part in the festival, but the coronavirus pandemic affected their plans.
Ogura proposed helping them wear a Japanese bridal costume as she learned that McTighe, who teaches at prefecture-run Tajima High School, and Conley, who teaches at prefecture-run Aizu High School, were to go back home in July. Ogura wanted to help them have special memories in their final days in Fukushima Prefecture.
It took about two hours for the trio to be transformed into Japanese bridal attire-clad women at the hair salon. Later, they had their commemorative photos taken in front of a big float, which is usually used during the annual festival, and also at Tadeuga Shrine in the town.
Conley, who came to Japan as part of post-disaster reconstruction assistance following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, said Fukushima is a special place for her. She said she would like to come back to attend the festival with her family after the pandemic is contained.
（ Translated by The Japan News ）
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