I always hesitate to go shopping in new kimono stores.
For those of you who don’t live in Japan, you may be shouting at the screen right now. “How could you not like going into new stores??? Think of all the beautiful kimono and obi that you’re missing out on!”
Well, I had two experiences this weekend that highlight exactly why I don’t enjoy going into a new store for the first time. They were both more negative encounters than most that I have had. But before I get to these more negative experiences, here’s how a usual interaction goes.
I will enter the store and start looking around. Almost immediately, a sales clerk will start following me around. Really, really, close. This bothers me in ANY store I go into, so kimono stores are no exception. But then, usually, they will point at something and say, “obijime desu.” (This is an obijime). “Obi desu.” (This is an obi).
Now, I understand this reaction. I am a foreigner in a store that sells items that most Japanese people don’t have a lot of knowledge about, let alone a foreigner. They don’t expect me to know anything. I understand. But it gets old very, very fast. Especially when I visit multiple stores in one day. When it does happen, I usually respond with “Hai, fukuro obi desu ne?” (Yes. It’s a fukuro obi isn’t it?) Showing them that I have even a bit of knowledge usually gets a positive, surprised reaction most of the time, and it usually leads to a conversation about kimono and kitsuke.
These initial interactions have led to some great relationships between me and some of the local stores. They know what I like and how much I’m comfortable spending and they are quick to show me new pieces when I come in. They are also the ones to explain to new customers that I’m a teacher and I know what I’m doing when they see me trying on a new piece for size. These shops are my favorite places to shop. I feel very comfortable there.
This weekend, I discovered a local flea market, complete with kimono vendors. I had never been there before, and I expected the usual interactions that I’ve had before. Here’s what happened.
I spotted a kimono that I liked and examined it for damage and size. I quickly figured out that it was too small for me and put it back. As soon as I let go, another shopper, an older woman, ran up to me, grabbed the kimono, and put it on my shoulders. Here’s the conversation that took place (all in Japanese).
Woman: Let me dress you in the kimono.
Me: No, that’s ok. It’s too small.
Woman (to the stall owner): Do you have a himo?
Me: It’s ok. I’m a kitsuke teacher.
Woman: un (sound of acknowledgement) then measures the length.
Woman: ah, it’s too small.
Me: Yes, I know. I’m a kitsuke teacher.
Woman: The length is too small.
Me: Yes. The yuki is too small too.
Woman: Eeeeeeeh! You know what the yuki is?
Me: Yes. I’m a kitsuke teacher.
Finally, after three repetitions, she had heard me. And we had a great conversation after that about tea ceremony (she turned out to be a tea ceremony teacher).
But it bugged me. Again, it took me throwing out a technical term for her to actually listen to what I was telling her. It was a minor annoyance I know, but it was still an annoyance.
The second event happened the same day at dinner at a friend’s house. He had a friend over who wanted to try out his English, and the following conversation took place.
Man: Can you wear kimono?
Me: Yes, I can.
My proud husband: She is a kitsuke teacher.
Man: You are liar.
Ouch. That hurt. Yes, I know there was a language barrier. The same word in Japanese (uso!) has a lighter connotation than liar and I know he was just translating directly from one language to the other, but it got me wondering if I should just print off a copy of my license and keep it in my pocket to prove it. As it is, I did have a photo of it on my phone and pulled it out to show him.
And I realized something; that I will always have to prove that I know what I’m talking about. Every day, as long as I am a kitsuke teacher, I will be second-guessed and dismissed until I prove that I do know what I’m doing. It’s a depressing thought. And I know it’s not exclusive to me or my situation. But it’s still depressing.
I don’t like having to prove myself every single time, and that is why I hesitate to go shopping in a new kimono store.