By Mayumi Negishi – Column
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese are getting reacquainted with the kimono, helped by a host of Web sites that are succeeding where pushy sales people and kimono schools have failed.
Today’s Web sites are credited with helping bring the traditional costume back into special or every-day occasions, and even offer tips to guys whose date is wearing a kimono.
“Don’t touch,” is the general rule. “Putting your arm around her shoulder or waist could loosen the fabric and ruin her outfit.”
“Remember that her sandals may be hurting her feet,” is another thing to remember, the sites say. “Sit down as often as possible.”
Online tips on kimono wear and care are helping to reintroduce Japanese to the garment, much to the joy of retailers, who in 20 years have watched the kimono market shrink to less than half its size.
Second-hand kimono stores are posting easy-to-understand instructions on everything from how they are fitted, to tips on stain removal and proper storage (http://www.kyoushouan.com/).
A Web site run by small Kyoto kimono goods store Ando Co. has practical advice on finding sandals that don’t hurt your feet as well as animated illustrations on wearing a yukata — a lighter, summer version of the kimono (http://yukatalism.com).
“People say the kimono is dying out,” said Yukatalism chief editor Kimihiro Yamaguchi. “But that’s not the picture I get.”
The site saw 1.95 million hits since 2000 and has lifted Ando’s sandal orders to about 100 a day, up from just a handful before, he said.
Changing fashions have negatively impacted demand for Japan’s traditional garb, which is worn mainly at formal occasions, weddings and coming-of-age ceremonies.
But for the first time in more than two decades, the $5 billion industry is in for a slight expansion in the business year to March 2008, according to Yano Research Institute Ltd.
Internet support groups and online sales of less-expensive and vintage kimono are keeping sales from falling, according to Yano Research spokeswoman Rimi Nakamura.
Online sales of kimono, also described as one of Japan’s oldest works of art, are still relatively slow, as buyers prefer to feel the fabric and hold it against the light. But growth has continued steadily since 2000, according to Yano Research.
One shopper who spent about 300,000 yen ($2,475) on kimono last year, is Chiaki Hara, an athletic trainer. Some of her favourite sites, Kururi and Yukataya, run by small kimono makers, are loaded with blog commentary and tips on selecting the right pattern of kimono (http://www.kururi.net/index.html)(http://www.rakuten.co.jp/gold/yukataya/).
She likes to shop online, despite a disappointing purchase of a striped emerald-green vintage kimono for $100, which she was unable to return.
“The colors were wrong. I can live with that in a shirt or dress, but color is what makes kimono either cheap or elegant,” said Hara, 31. “I might be able to wear it in poor lighting.”
The kimono industry has not done a good job of reaching out to kimono-lovers like Hara with better graphics and more complete information on Internet sites, according to Naoto Obama, a managing director at private equity firm Olympus Capital Holdings Asia.
Last year, one of Japan’s largest kimono store chains, Takeuchi Group, filed for bankruptcy due to sluggish sales and tough competition.
But Olympus is betting it would be able to find untapped demand for the kimono. The fund said earlier this month that it will buy a third of kimono retailer Kyoto Kimono Yuzen Co. Ltd., the No. 1 seller of long-sleeved kimono worn by unmarried women.
Women are spending more per kimono for coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings, and older women are now wearing kimono more often, Obama said.
“Kimono makers and retailers have simply not done enough to promote kimono for daily wear,” he said. “We need to be more creative at marketing kimono. There is so much potential.”