(Lindsay and Gus were in Japan and entered a department store.)

On the first floor, we decided to head all the way to the back. As we reached the turning point, I saw a cute little shop within the store with several yukatas on display (A yukata is kind of like a kimono, which basically looks like a bath robe with a giant sash around your waist, and they usually come in many different colors and designs. The yukata, unlike a kimono, is less formal/elaborate, and is also lighter in material so that it can be worn during the summer).

image061.jpgAs I was looking through them, a woman came out and got excited when she saw me. Soon after another employee followed her, this time a man. They immediately began pulling out different yukatas and asked me what my favorite color was. I replied “Murasaki” (which means purple in Japanese). They grabbed several purple ones, and I chose two that I liked the most.

They then signaled for me to enter their little store, which was surrounded by paper screens. I had to take my shoes off at the entrance because the inside was lined with tatami mats. I was annoyed by the fact that both my converse shoes and socks were soaked from the rain.

The woman went off into another room to grab a mirror as we waited in the main room. Inside there were two tables with some chairs and a few shelves with random objects on them. Once she came back, she placed the mirror in front of me and asked me to lift my arms up. Once I did, she began formally attiring me in the yukata.

In the mean time, the man and woman began asking us several questions in broken English. They asked us where we were from, how long we were staying, and if we liked Japan. The man seemed to understand more English than the woman (probably because he was younger and his English skills were fresher) so he often translated things to the woman.

I tried my best to sometimes say things in Japanese, and between our broken languages we managed to understand each other.

Once she finished putting on the main robe, she went and grabbed some obis (the giant sash that is worn around your waist over the robe. The obi helps hide the extra fabric from your robe, as well as the fabric that is tied around you to keep the yukata on.) She returned with two obis, a cute yukata purse, and some traditional yukata shoes.

It was awkward putting on the shoes because they were like platform sandals, and my heels ended up hanging off the back end because my feet are so big. I tried asking them for a bigger size, but they informed me that the shoes were meant to be smaller than your feet.

I asked the man what the price was, and he began totaling everything up on a calculator. The price of everything together was unfortunately out of my budget (around $300). They could tell I was shocked when I saw the price, and asked me what my budget was. I told them around $100 (10,000 Yen). To help reduce the price of my outfit, she told me that I can just wear regular sandals with my outfit. I told her that I also already have a traditional yukata bag, so they subtracted that.

image062.jpgEven after those two items, the total was still too much. After some consideration, I decided to try on the other yukata I had chosen. After seeing the new one on me, I realized I liked how it looked much more, and was happy to learn that it was considerably cheaper than the first one. The yukata, together with a pink obi and a pretty white sash that can be tied around the obi for decoration.

The new total was in my budget, and I asked them if they accepted credit cards (in which they did). As they were ringing me up, the man brought me a DVD and a package of small pink sashes (the ones that are used for tying around your yukata underneath the obi) and told me that they were a gift. I was very surprised and extremely happy by this huge and unusual act of kindness that I normally don’t experience at stores back home.

As this was going on, I noticed a group of older women who were taking their shoes off and entering the shop. It seemed like they had been to the shop several times before, based on the fact that they seemed so comfortable and chatty. They had all been seated at the tables in the room, and were served tea as they had watched me trying on a yukata (I was, of course, clothed. The woman just simply put the yukata on over my clothes).

After my purchase was made, I thanked them formally with a huge smile on my face. It seemed very hard to say goodbye because they were such nice people.

(Note: This is a part of the trip journal by Lindsay McCoy, one of the winners of the JNTO essay/photo contest in 2010.)