Bebe Taian: Notes on Purchasing Kimono from Japan

November 17, 2010

Notes on Purchasing Kimono from Japan

When buying kimono online, especially from Japan, it is helpful to note that it can be harder than shopping in person. There are special things you must consider when purchasing kimono or Japanese items online before you commit to buying anything!

In person, you have the obvious advantage of being able to handle the silk, seeing exactly what colour it is, the ability to personally check for stains or any kind of damage, and the ability to try the garment on.

Buying kimono can be much more difficult online.

Firstly, there is the obvious inability to truly try something on and see how you like it. Silks are not all the same- some are very smooth and slippery, some are rougher and stay put when tied. Synthetics are also not all the same: some are very supple, some are stiff and cannot be tied properly. It is difficult to describe adequately; what is preferential is up to each person.

Second, Japanese shipping is expensive. $30 to ship ONE $15 kimono? The seller is NOT trying to rip you off. Japanese shipping is prohibitively expensive, and currently, except for some business sellers, completely prohibited to America. There are usually three options with Japanese shipping, and all can take at least a month:

SAL- cheapest shipping option, can take two month on average to arrive, no insurance or tracking
Air Mail- slightly more expensive, slightly faster arrival time, but still no tracking or insurance
EMS- fastest option and the most recommended. This is the ONLY option with insurance and tracking, and should arrive within 14 days of being shipped. Can sometimes take longer than 14 days.

Third, the seller you are looking at buying from is likely not a native English speaker. Japan is 99% Japanese, and although English is taught in school, who are they going to speak to in English unless the person intends to go overseas? It's like learning German in High School- unless you actually have German friends or work for a German company, chances are, you will not speak German when you leave school or continue taking German classes once you graduate. Thus, most people forget a language that they never use.

Some use translating services on the web which can say interesting things from time to time, such as "there is a dimness here" (there is a stain here) or "all soil shown front" (the front is stained or dirty somewhere). Some sellers DO speak/write limited or fluent English and can help easily, but the politeness factors are difficult to translate. In Japan, those factors are paramount to a smooth-running society; in America, it is a somewhat casual experience. Either way, in the end, there is a chance that a piece you have purchased may have damage not mentioned. This is not malicious on the part of the seller- often, it is a simple inability to communicate. Most sellers try to communicate in photos instead of words.

Fourth, showing damage such as stains can be very difficult, especially if the stain is very light. This is partially due to monitor colour settings, but is also one of those things than can be difficult to see in person to begin with- but even so, if the stain exists, it must be shown. It is only the right thing to do. Capturing this on camera adequately is a difficult battle. If the photo is slightly too dark, it may not appear on film. If the fabric the stain is on is dark and the stain is only slightly darker, you may not be able to photograph it at all! This was the case with a very special Taisho kimono I own. It is a beautiful piece, but if you look very, very hard at the front lapel, you can see what appear to be watermarks or tea stains. Because traditionally women sit seiza style (on the floor, legs tucked underneath), stains on the front lapel are frequent issues. If a kimono is expensive, the cost of cleaning a kimono is doubly so. Those kimono are often cast off.

Lastly, there is the issue of colour-matching. One should be flexible about what colours one can use with things you already own.

For example, the kimono on the right- it appears royal blue in the photos, doesn't it? This specific shade could vary depending on your monitor settings and model, but the dyes the kimono and accessories are made of can be... *interesting* to photograph. Some chemical dyes appear one colour when photographed, but are actually another. I am not sure why this is. In normal or bright lighting, this kimono films as being dark blue. This kimono was blue in the advertisement photo (this photo exactly). But when I received it, it is actually PURPLE! I had to take photos indoors in somewhat dim lighting to make the fabric show its' true colours, and even then, some of those showed up as being a deep navy blue instead.

This is the kimono in actuality. With deep red lining typical of the Taisho-era kimono, it is made of exquisitely soft woven silk with yuzen dyed patterns. The softness of the silk makes it feel as if I'm wearing water. It's amazing. With a contemporary red fukuro obi with ume (plum blossom) motif, this was such a lovely winter kimono! Dark purple is a colour largely associated with the coming cold. It is difficult to see, but on the front hem there are white and red plum blossoms, and on the back of the right sleeve there is another spray of blossoms that match the obi. Other motifs shown are peonies, kiku (chrysanthemum), bamboo, and hollyhocks. In the last photo, look for the deep bluish tinge to the sleeve on the left- again underscoring how this fabric can photograph based on lighting alone!

The silk collar is attached to the matching bright red Taisho juban. I would love a pair of zori that match this outfit better; at the moment, I have a black pair of stretch tabi and black leather zori, or laquered wooden zori with deep blue and purple sequined straps. The wooden zori are nice for summer, but both pairs of zori are too big for me now! I would also like a pair of well-fitting tabi in white. I think white tabi are so much nicer for some outfits; black on everything can be too dark, and patterns too informal. Formal white tabi are all-occasion, and if cared for properly, can last a long time! But all of these things may not have worked for the kimono ensemble I had originally planned if the original kimono photo had been, say, brown and came in as a deep rust orange. Fortunately, I had been really hoping for a purple kimono to begin with, but had settled on bright blue. Imagine my surprise when I saw the true colour!

The most important thing to consider when purchasing kimono online is whether or not these minor differences in listings and in-person items are acceptable. Often, a kimono is non-returnable due to expense of shipping it back, whether or not customs will allow it to be returned, whether or not the seller can accept returns for whatever reason, etc. Obviously, if there is a significant difference in the listing and the actual item, send a polite e-mail to the seller and give at least a few days for a response (Japan is 14 hours different from the Eastern Coast of America, and getting an English-speaking employee or friend to come by might take time). See what you can do.

Once, I paid for SAL shipping for many expensive kimono from a seller I had purchased from previously. Two months later, I still have not received either package. Without tracking or insurance, there was really nothing the seller could do, but he dutifully kept an eye out for any returned packages on his end and confirmed the shipping date. The package was  a month late coming through American customs, but we were both very happy to finally know where those gorgeous pieces went! Of course, positive feedback was left for him, and a very happy e-mail as well. This is a story of sellers being good to their customers, even if it took a few days or so to get back to me, but also a word of caution: if you are willing to pay for the kimono, be willing to pay for insured shipping! Remember that many kimono are one of a kind and cannot be replaced.

All kimono and Japanese items from Bebe Taian are shipped from Florida and are inspected both while being listed and before they are shipped. American shipping is very inexpensive, and domestic Priority Mail shipping with insurance is normally used for kimono. The package reaches the buyer within three business days!

No comments:

Post a Comment