Today was a big spending day.
UlfdieFee bought a Kimono in Nanba.He feels like a Samurai now, even though the Kimono could hardly be further away from an actual Samurai armor.
To find the shop we went through a whole shopping district of stores supplying restaurants with kitchen utensils and door signs. After wriggling our way through a small and crowded back alley we arrived at a Kimono shop called Daifuku-ya, with hundreds of beautifully embroidered Kimonos hanging everywhere. Within the shop there was a podium, covered with tatami mats, where the client took off his shoes and got dressed. Which took us a while. Despite having talked for weeks about visiting the shop and UlfdieFee being thrilled at the thought of finally buying a Kimono, he suddenly realized he didn’t know anything about them and what to buy. Which we soon found out wasn’t a problem since the owner had exactly one Kimono in his size. For Japanese proportions, he is huge. So he got this simple black but beautiful Kimono with a Haori (the short coat in the same colour) and an Obi (the belt). Then the owner, realizing that we were beginners in the only clothing style that needs actual lessons to master, began piling stuff in front of us. Two strings, an under-Kimono, an under-under-Kimono, socks, zôri (shoes) and a gem ornament to hold the Haori. A women’s Kimono needs about twice as many items and and takes at least three times longer to put on. We bought everything and left the shop with a lot less money but a gorgeous Kimono (I love Kimonos, especially on men.)
the fierce under-Kimono
Trying on the Kimono in the shop…
… and again at home, this time with lots of help from me
Then it was my turn. Since I’m planning to check out the job market in Japan, I needed a suit, which I bought at one of Japan’s best known suit companies, Aoyama. It took about two hours and I paid more than three times as much as I’d intended. I’m pretty sure the female staff member who was advising me, was a daughter of the devil. She used an intricate method of complimenting me, feeding my insecurities at what was needed on the job market and emphasizing how everyone else bought everything she recommended to make me take more than I wanted and leave more than I ever wanted. “Oh, you’re from Osaka University? How amazing, you must be so good! But you know what’s more important than ability and grades? Appearance. Mess up that first impression and you’ll fail. Here, take this. And this.” Apart from the pantsuit I had come for, the got me a skirt, a bag, shoes, a belt and many more little gadgets. Then she miscalculated everything, so when she named me the price, I turned instantly pale. I literally felt the blood drain from my face and began shaking. I then followed up with a quivering voice: “I seem to remember you saying something different a while ago.” So she recalculated and I paid. It still hurt.
So why’d I do it? First, because even though it hit me unexpectedly it was still a fairly good price for something I will need the next months or years. Being a student and having brought little coupons from my university I got a pretty good deal, especially considering all the accessories she heaved onto me.
Secondly, because I had serious difficulties finding a ladies suit in Germany. Even though there surely must be demand for it, it is nearly impossible to find a proper selection of suits unless you’re male or Angela Merkel. Or maybe there are stores and I’m just unable to find them. But even back in Germany, when looking for some formal wear, I was thinking: “I can’t wait to be in Japan and buy a proper suit for myself.” It’s probably because this whole concept of students, getting out into society, beginning their lives as part of the work force, which has such a strong presence in Japan, is almost nonexistent in Germany. Surely, there are guidebooks and one or two seminars at university, but in Japan there seems to rotate a whole culture around it. It is called shûkatsu, short for shûshoku katsudô (就職活動), the activity of finding a job, and even though this could apply to a middle-aged person looking for new employment just as well, its usually connected to students who are about to graduate.
An entire section in the bookstore at university is dedicated to books teaching you the right manners, from what to wear and how to ace an interview to when to take off your coat as you enter a company. There are job fairs, entry sheets (where you write why you want to become part of that particular company) and job interviews. Suit stores have a whole assembly ready for students beginning their shûkatsu. Which, by the way, begins in the third year for undergraduates, takes several months and means you usually have a job long before you graduate.
While this strict system sounds a bit frightening at first it actually has some great advantages. Since everybody goes through the same process, there are a lot of ways to prepare yourself for it by buying the appropriate wardrobe and reading lots of books. It makes you feel as if you can control part of the process.
The most important thing, though, is that when companies line up to meet those students at the job fairs (which they do enthusiastically), they know exactly whom they’re hiring: young people, well educated, but utterly untrained. They know that the entire job training will be their responsibility and they are prepared to do that. They are rewarded with often loyal employees who still have a high chance of working their whole lives at the same company, earning more and more throughout the years and having a real chance at real promotions. The whole system of “must have at least two years of job experience and five internships in exactly our area of expertise for this entry level position” that seems to have swept over Europe and the US and has left thousands of young students hopeless, has not yet arrived in Japan. Hopefully, it won’t.
I’m not yet sure whether I’ll want to work in Japan. There’s no harm in taking a peek, though.