After a few late-night conversations filled with stress and worry, I decided to keep my appointment to visit the tonya-san (wholesaler) with my kimono school's Headmistress. We met early on a Saturday and on the way, she asked me what colour houmongi (formal "visiting" kimono) I was hoping to find. She also assured me that I should be straightforward in my opinions on the kimono I would be shown, and not be afraid to say that I didn't like something. This pep talk would have been helpful a week earlier, since from the moment I made the appointment a feeling of impending kimono doom had been seeping into my consciousness. Despite the beau's insistence that I need not buy anything unless I truly loved it, my teachers' confidence that I would go to the tonya-san, find a kimono and have it all sewn up to measure by my test was more than a little disconcerting, for the equation left no room for me not loving something.
The tonya-san was located in a fairly drab office building but once inside their main office, it is one huge tatami room with rolls of kimono fabric piled on the floor and stacks of obi material and half-sewn kimono on shelves lining the walls. Headmistress and I were invited to sit and partake in tea and cake while one of the employees, Yamada-san, brought over a pile of kimono she had picked out for us to view. We quickly looked at each and then made "whassup" and "ish don't think so" piles. Despite thinking that making a kimono to order would take care of all my height and sleeve length worries, I discovered that wasn't entirely true. Depending on the positioning of the pattern on the fabric and by extension, my body, some designs would look unbalanced or too small on me, a veritable godzilla at 5'6. I also learned that some patterns look "lonely" depending on placement and sparsity.
I slipped on a pair of tabi slippers (imagine a pair of tabi socks had been cut off before the heel) and Yamada-san strapped a white collar to my chest to give us the best idea of how a kimono would actually look on. The kimono I tried on all had a few loose stitches put in here and there so that when draped properly, we could see where the pattern would fall and whether it indeed looked lonely or not. I tried on a black houmongi, thinking it looked like a possibility but as soon as I had it on my shoulders, I knew that there were no other contenders in the whassup pile. Not only is black my favourite colour, but the pattern was chic, a mix of bamboo, plum blossoms and chrysanthemum sweeping up from the hem to the knee, with a few plum blossoms on one of the shoulders and the back of the other sleeve. No one does asymmetry like the Japanese, no one.
Obi were then brought out to match and the guy who seemed to be in charge made me a price, as they say, on a gold and white brocade obi that caused Headmistress to gasp that she would buy it if I didn't. I had brought a bolt of silk to make a naga-jyuban, the robe that goes under a kimono, so Yamada-san then took my measurements (height, wingspan, bust and hip) for the tailoring. Jokes were made by the guy in charge and Yamada-san about my plentiful bosom and how I could spare some to give to Yamada-san, who claimed to be practically concave. Only in this wonderful country. We then sat down to talk business, the fun part over. This was the point in the show that I had been dreading, for I really wasn't ready to make a decision on the spot. Everyone else, however, was raring to go.
In my most polite Japanese at a pre-pubescent pitch almost ready to break, I asked if I could think about it until Monday, the latest point at which I could place an order that would be ready for my test date. I did think about asking Headmistress what would happen if I didn't have my own formal kimono for the test, but decided it probably wasn't a question that had ever been asked. Yamada-san wrote up a detailed estimate for me, listing the individual prices for the kimono, naga-jyuban and obi and those for the tailoring. When she handed it over it felt like it weighed 10kg in my hand, despite being a transparent piece of receipt paper.
I can see why women here are intimidated by the kimono industry - the aura of untouchability alone is enough, but combined with a lack of ability to say no, and I now understand the stories I've heard of women getting in over their head on impulse kimono purchases. The beau, bless him, knew time was a-ticking and directly asked his customer if we could visit his wholesale company, an invitation we would normally have to wait for. So when Monday rolled around I visited my second wholesaler that week, price estimate in hand. Again, big tatami room, rolls of priceless fabric. The customer was very obliging and looked at photos I had brought of the kimono and obi. After scrutinizing the 10kg paper, he concurred with the price, saying that he would have charged me similar and that the same kimono sold at a department store would be around 100,000 yen more. His second opinion meant a lot to me and ultimately gave me the strength to pick up the phone and place the order.
I'll post on my sweat-inducing test later but let me just say that once you have tasted the sweet nectar of an order-made kimono, you cannot, will not, go back. In the words of the ever-wise Michael Kors, it fits like a dream.