Holiday Gift Guide for Kimono Lovers

If you know and love someone who collects kimono, you know how difficult shopping for them can be. I’ve created this holiday gift guide as an attempt to help you all out. Hopefully it will offer information on some reliable sellers and suggest some slightly out-of-the-box ideas that will be of interest to kimono collectors without breaking the bank. I have been working on it for quite some time now, and I hope you find it helpful! This post is quite long, so please click through to read the whole thing.

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Ichiroya Vendor Spotlight

Welcome to a new feature here on Kimono Tsuki! While I have shared shopping tips and tricks before, I often receive questions asking if a particular vendor online is a reliable source and I thought it would be beneficial to shine a spotlight on some of the excellent vendors and dealers out there.

For the first installment of this feature, who better to feature than Ichiroya. Run by a lovely couple named Ichiro and Yuka Wada, Ichiroya has been bringing vintage kimono to the public since 2001. They were one of the first stores to make purchasing kimono simple for people outside of Japan. Their team has grown slightly over the years, but they remain a small, friendly, and very knowledgeable company. Their selection is updated almost every day and they stock everything from Taisho-era vintage formal pieces to modern and inexpensive yukata.

The site is quite well laid-out and easy to navigate, especially if you’re used to large Japanese shopping portals like  Rakuten, which can get a little overwhelming. There’s a huge variety in stock, from vintage to modern and from inexpensive yukata to major investment pieces. A little something for everyone, from the beginner to the seasoned collector! The listings are always incredibly detailed, with a full list of flaws, age spots, etc. A few times I’ve purchased things and been unable to find the “flaws” that were pointed out on the listings. It just goes to show you how thorough they are.

One of the ways Ichiroya stands out is the customer service. Everyone who works there is not only incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, but they’re also very kind. If you’re a beginner, or looking for a gift and don’t know where to start, they will gladly communicate with you before you make a purchase. They include lovely little gifts with every purchase. Usually something small like a fabric sample or a little postcard, but it’s a lovely gesture. They’ve also taken the time to answer questions I’ve had about kimono I didn’t even buy there! Now that’s amazing customer service.

Ichiroya also has an offshot project, Kimonotte Factory, where they can make kimono with modern size, comfort, and convenience using custom-printed fabric with vintage designs. This is especially awesome for folks who love the bold look of Taisho Roman or early Showa fashions but need a bigger size, or are worried about ruining delicate vintage fabrics. There are a few pieces I would absolutely love to have here (this lavender rose komon and this beautiful floral obi come to mind), but they are not in my budget for the time being. One day, though!

Mugi, the owners’ daughter, also runs a lovely Tumblr account called Mugi’s Kimono World where she shares lots of fun and funky coordinated outfits, so if you’re looking for inspiration after having made a purchase, do check that out too!

Quality and Selection

Ichiroya has an enormous selection of products, and add more nearly every single day. The site is also very well organised, which makes it easy to find what you want. Or you can browse and end up falling in love with something unexpected. The quality of the pieces varies, as to be expected with vintage items, but they’re always incredibly up-front about the condition of each item.


Ease of Use

The site navigation is very straightforward, and adding items to your cart is as easy as a couple of clicks. However, the ordering process has a step you might not be used to if you’ve only shopped online in North America, or only with large retailers. After you’ve placed and submitted your order, you have to wait until they get back to you with the invoice, at which point you can pay easily with PayPal or a credit card.


Customer Service

I cannot say enough good things about the customer service at Ichiroya. As I mentioned above, all the employees are incredibly helpful and friendly, always willing to go the extra mile to help out a potential customer. They are just genuinely lovely people.


Prices

This is a tough thing to quantify, as there are currently items under $10 and items over $1000 listed. When it comes to kimono, there are so many things to factor in when it comes to price. Age, rarity, condition, etc. Since most of these items are one-of-a-kind, it’s not easy to comparison-shop. However, their prices are more than competitive when all of these things are factored into account. Whatever your budget is, you’re certain to find something you’ll love.


Shipping

They offer multiple shipping options, depending on your budget and timeframe. When ordering from Japan, EMS tends to be the most reliable option, but it’s also the most expensive. SAL is cheaper, but slower and uninsured. Whatever rate you choose, though, they are always quick about getting the order out, it’s always carefully packed, and there is always a lovely little extra in the package.

All in all, whether you’re looking to add to an existing collection or just dipping your toes in, I cannot recommend Ichiroya highly enough!

Montreal Kimono Club Meetup!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a group of other local kimono enthusiasts. I will admit, I was more than a little nervous since it’s been over five years since I’ve worn kimono out of the house. Initially, I’d wanted to wear this coordination but it’s been so hot and muggy here lately that I knew I needed to switch to a hitoe kimono. Once I’d decided to run with my bunny komon, I decided to go a bit overboard with adorable animals, finishing the outfit off with my ridiculous daschund tabi and bunny geta.

We met up at a metro station and helped a few folks who didn’t have items of their own get dressed. Of course, we attracted some curious attention, but it was primarily positive. From there we headed to Kimono Vintage Montreal. I’ve been wanting to check this store out since it opened, but I hadn’t had the opportunity yet. It was definitely worth the wait! The store is an amazing little gem, filled with gorgeous treasures. The women there were incredibly friendly and helpful, and seemed genuinely excited to see our ragtag little group. We spent a fair bit of time there, eyeing all the beautiful kimono and accessories on display. I’d not intended to buy anything, but of course I found one piece I absolutely loved and knew I had to have. There was a brief moment of sticker shock for someone who has been spoiled by buying things from online auctions, but the experience and the quality were more than worth it.

After we posed for a few photos and said goodbye to the lovely ladies of Kimono Vintage, we headed a few blocks away to a tiny gem of a tea shop, Cha Do Raku. Of course, we attracted attention from the few other patrons, but again, it was overwhelmingly positive!

There was a huge selection of tea available, and with the muggy weather I was happy to hear most of them could be served iced. The young woman working there was so sweet and helpful, and she served us our teas and snack with warmth and grace. The shop is quite small and intimate, and was a wonderful place to relax and cool down a little after our adventure.

Overall, it was an awesome day. I met lots of wonderful, like-minded people and it felt really excellent to get out and about in kimono again! I’m really looking forward to doing this again sometime soon.

If you’re in the Montreal area, please check out the following links:

Kimono Vintage Montreal Website | Kimono Vintage Montreal Facebook
Cha Do Raku 茶道楽 Website | Cha Do Raku Facebook
Montreal Kimono Club Facebook

e-Shop ’til you Drop!

One of the questions I most often get asked when I go out in kimono is “Where do you get them?!” and nearly invariably, the answer is “the internet.” If you’re reading this blog, clearly you are familiar with this magical and wonderful tool, but over the years I’ve amassed a few useful tips and tricks that I thought it might be worthwhile to share. This will be a series of posts, each discussing different online vendors and shopping methods.

Today I’ll be talking about everyone’s favourite time (and money) waster, eBay. Please note, that link heads to eBay USA. Even if you’re elsewhere in the world, most sellers tend to list the bulk of their items here and they may not show up on international sites. However, don’t forget to factor in shipping costs and customs. That 99-cent bargain may not be so much of a bargain when you have to pay $40 in shipping.

“But Diane,” you might say, “I already know about eBay!” Aah, but do you know about all the weird places and terms to go by? If you’ve already looked around here, you’ll know that doing a blanket search for “kimono” will turn up myriad results, a lot of them being tacky toys, polyester bathrobes, and questionable personal hygiene products (I am constantly coming across a particular brand of prophylactic in my never-ending hunt for kimono online). Your best place to start is in the several kimono-specific category leaves eBay already has conveniently set up.

These categories are great if the seller knows what they have, but often times people inherit things or receive them as gifts, and have no real idea what they’ve got. Here’s a quick list of alternative spellings or terminology that I’ve seen turn up some real gems. Caveat emptor though – sometimes complete and utter garbage will be listed using these terms too.

  • Kimono: Kimona, Komono, Komona, Kemono, Geisha dress, Geesha dress, Japanese dress, Japanese robe (you may feel dirty and ashamed typing some of these out, but the potential bargains are worth it, I promise)
  • Obi: Obie, obe, obee, oby, Japanese belt, Japanese sash, Japanese table runner (this one made me cringe!). One person I know found an obi and a Biyosugata (obi-tying aid) together listed as “Japanese dress bustle.”
  • Obiage: Obi shawl, obi scarf, Japanese shawl, Japanese scarf
  • Obijime: Obi tie, obi cord, Japanese cord
  • Obidome: Obi brooch, obi clasp, obi jewelry, Japanese brooch, Japanese jewelry
  • Zori & geta: zohri, zouri, getta, gettah, getah, Japanese sandals, Japanese kimono shoes
  • Haori & Michiyuki: Kimono coat, kimono jacket, short kimono, hoari, haory, happi coat (Happi coat are actually another type of garment – casual cotton with short sleeves and often a logo or character on the back, but haori often get mis-listed this way)
  • Uchikake: Utikake, Uticake

If you’re still relatively new to the hobby and want to make sure what you’re buying is legitimate, there are a few “tried and true” sellers of kimono and related who are all based in Japan and have consistently good track records of making beautiful, affordable, and sometimes very rare items available to the western market.

Apr Japan does the majority of their listings as Buy It Now (BIN), with the ability to make an offer – don’t hesitate to use the Offer feature, they will generally accept fair and reasonable ones. They’ve got a ton of vintage pieces and are very thorough about showing any damage.
BabyMoti offer up lots of cute, casual kimono and yukata at great Buy It Now prices. Quality and condition aren’t always stellar, but the items are always wearable.
Ichiroya is probably one of the big heavy-hitters in online sales. They don’t sell on eBay as much as they used to, focusing more on their own website but when they list items, it’s definitely worth a look.
Japanese.Antiques offer up a good variety of vintage and modern items, both auctions and BIN. They also always have a ton of accessories up, usually as BIN sales, and they do really great combined shipping, so if you win an auction from them it’s definitely worthwhile to browse and possibly pick up a few extra items.
MKZStudio sells new yukata, geta, and casual obi. Prices are not the most affordable, but are still very competitive for brand new items direct from Japan.
RyuJapan is a seller who’s been around forever, always has amazing vintage pieces, and is a pleasure to deal with. He tends to post massive floods of listings all at once, so if you see a piece or two listed that you like, it’s worthwhile browsing the rest of his listings. (*UPDATE – RyuJapan has merged with another seller, Shinei, and there have been reports of a drop in service quality. I have not experienced problems with either of these sellers myself, but I thought it was worthwhile mentioning. 01/30/11)
Tokyo Trend has a lot of BIN items at very affordable prices. Note that their listing thumbnails only show a close-up of the item – these are not pieces of fabric, they are full kimono, so be sure to check the listings carefully!
Yamatoku Classic offer up a great balance of modern items and vintage ones for great prices (often lots of Buy It Now items), and have been in business for a very long time. My first ever obi was purchased from them.

This list is by no means complete or concrete. Sometimes amazing bargains are to be had by finding sellers other people aren’t familiar with, and being willing to take a risk.

Now that you know what categories to browse, and what words to search for, your best bets are to sort the results by Newly Listed and flip through there, and then sort by Ending Soonest and be sure to browse there – it’s a great way to snag some last-minute deals! If you’re on a budget, a great way to prevent getting too caught up in auction madness is to stick solely to the Buy It Now tab. There are often really affordable and cute items in there. I find a good way to prevent succumbing to silly impulse buys (“It’s a buy it now! And it’s cheap! I don’t care if it’s ugly!”) is to stick to the Buy It Now category and only look at the thumbnails. If something jumps out at you, then you can check the price and decide if you really want it or not!

I hope you enjoyed my first shopping hints post, stay tuned for the next one, where I’ll discuss the Japanese answer to eBay, Yahoo Japan Auctions.

*Please note that I am not affiliated with any of the above sellers, nor am I remunerated in any capacity for promoting them, but in the interest of fair disclosure I openly admit that I have occasionally gotten small free gifts from some of the above sellers. However this seems to be standard business practice for a lot of them to thank regular customers or people who spend a significant amount.*