Kiyoko’s gift: Spectacular kimono collection donated to charity [**Gallery**]

PORT TOWNSEND — In the spring of 1970, Mike Bare and Kiyoko Matsuno were united in marriage.

The Shinto ceremony was held in a hall in her hometown of Omuta on the southern island of Kyushu.

The 21-year-old bride wore a formal kimono, rented for the occasion. The groom, who was in the U.S. Air Force, wore a kimono made for him by his mother-in-law.

Bare still has the kimono he wore on his wedding day, but is passing on the kimonos and other traditional Japanese clothing collected by his first wife, Kiyoko, who died in 2002.

On Saturday, Mike and his spouse, Kathy Bare, drove from Sequim to deliver the bulk of the collection to the Children’s Hospital Thrift Store, where they will be sold during the store’s Asian Days in April.

In all, Bare is donating 44 kimonos and happi coats, including a child’s kimono, and 14 obi, the sash that is tied around the kimono with a bow in the back.

Most are vintage pieces that Kiyoko collected during the last decade of her life.

“As she got older, she got more into her heritage,” Bare said.

“Some of it she wore, but most it she just had.”

But Bare hadn’t even seen most of the collection until 2005, when he started cleaning out the house in Palmdale, Calif., where he and Kiyoko lived for most of their 32-year marriage.

Originally from Oregon, Bare had enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam era.

He was posted to Thailand, then was given the choice of rotating back to the States or going to Japan.

He wanted to see Japan, so in 1968, he was assigned to Misawa Air Force Base. He met Kiyoko during a trip to Lake Towado, a caldera lake.

“I was on a motorcycle and she was with a tour group,” he said.

“I went down to the beach, and she took my photo and we talked.”

The two exchanged letters — most homes in Japan did not have phones at that time, Bare said — only one for the entire street.

When he wrote that he was planning to visit her part of the country, he was invited to visit, and stayed a week.

“Before I left, I ask her to marry me,” he said.

They lived in Japan, where their first child was born, until 1972, when the family moved to Palmdale.

Kiyoko opened her own real estate business.

She and Bare wore kimonos on Christmas and New Year’s for parties, Bare said, Kiyoko usually wearing the more ornate silk ones.

After she died, Bare found boxes of carefully folded kimonos, some in matching paper holders, plus a collection of happi coats, shorter jackets worn by servants.

There was also an oblong box of woven obi, several lengths of material for making obi, and accessories, such as handkerchief-sized fabric tucked into the obi to add color.

When he sold the house in 2005, Bare kept the collection. He married Kathy, who had also lost a spouse, in 2006, and when they moved to Sequim, the boxes came along and were stored in a closet.

Realizing there was no point in keeping the kimonos stored away, Bare decided to sell the collection on eBay, researching styles and creating a catalog with description and prices.

But after he had sold a few items, Kathy asked him if really wanted to do that, and Bare realized he didn’t.

A member of the Sequim Children’s Hospital Guild, Kathy suggested donating them to the organization’s thrift store in Port Townsend.

So Bare contacted Sue Garlinghouse, the manager.

On Saturday, Kathy helped Garlinghouse unpack and hang up the kimonos, while Bare checked the catalog and provided the value he had determined, based on his research.

Most are silk, although some are wool or cotton — and in excellent condition, having been worn probably only for special occasions and carefully stored.

Some are floral designs, including a lovely child’s kimono, while others are prints or subdued colors.

Bare was planning on keeping one of the brighter pieces — a yellow and black kimono — because he thought it would be fun to wear on stage when he plays ukulele in the Eden Valley Strummers, the house band at the Port Angeles Senior Center.

But the sleeves are too long.

Most of the kimonos and coats are priced in the $35 to $50 range, and the obi in the $15 to $35 range, although some are more or less, depending on design and condition.

Bare is keeping the elaborate formal kimonos that Kiyoko wore, as they are worth around $1,000, but said he is open to donating them to an event as a fundraiser, he said.

And he hopes to find a buyer for the bronze statue that Kiyoko bought, a piece nearly four feet tall, titled “The Shogun.”

It was made by Seibo Nishimura, who created the statues for the Peace Park in southern Japan.

“It showed up on the front porch about three weeks after one of her trips,” Bare said. “It almost ended the marriage.”


Port Townsend writer and columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at

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