There was really only one thing that I would have been heartbroken to leave Japan without and that was a silk made-in-Japan kimono. Before the trip my mom and I both did a little research on the best place to find them and we decided that I didn't actually want a kimono at all–what I wanted was a yukata. A kimono is a very formal, very expensive, very hard-to-put-on-by-yourself piece of clothing. But a yukata, a simple robe that is made in both cotton and silk, in indoor and outdoor versions, is something I knew I would use and love for years and years.
We read that the best place to find good quality silk yukata (when in Japan, always go for the silk) was in high-end department stores. So one evening I took a cab to Takashimaya just before closing time before meeting the rest of our group for a late dinner. The "kimono floor" where I was instructed to go was magical. Wooden and paper fans and exquisite hair clips and the most luscious fabric samples surrounded me as I stepped off the escalator.
I decided on an indoor yukata as opposed to an outdoor one, something intimate and lovely to slip into after a bath or wear on lazy Saturday mornings before getting dressed. I tried on short and long ones but think I knew the whole time that the long, almost floor-length ones were for me. The saleswoman helped me into pale pastels with dark brushstrokes and a cream-colored one that I thought might be it.
But then I put on an orange-red yukata, that color that is so Japanese, with the most gorgeous white and gold and blue flowers and cherry blossoms pattern. (The photos don't do it justice.) I looked in the mirror and knew. There was no other yukata for me. This was the one. It made me feel elegant and lovely and isn't that the point of a luxury robe, how it makes you feel? The beauty of buying a piece of clothing that's meant to be worn only around the house is that its purpose is purely to make you feel good and soft and pretty. (And maybe to make your husband think that too.)
Since I was alone this first time around I was excited to bring Val back with me a few days later because she wanted to bring a yukata home too. (Side note: I was so touched when, this second time on the kimono floor in Kyoto's Takashimaya, Brahms' Op. 118 No. 2–which I consider my signature piece–was playing overhead.) She decided on a knee-length yukata in a fresh mint shade that is to-die-for against her dark hair and light skin.
I had thought I'd save my yukata to wear only every so often but I've been slinking into it almost every night. The older I get the less I believe in "saving" our nicest things for special occasions, but instead using them and loving them in regular everyday life. As evening looms I get excited to put it on and lay in bed with a book and I'm not sure I own anything (aside from my wedding dress) that makes me feel more beautiful.
p.s. Val and I decided that kimono just sounds better than yukata so that's what we call our robes, even though we know it isn't really accurate. :)