Robbin’s 留学の思い出: Shopping

The awesome sweater I picked up for cheap during lunch hour at my university.

I suddenly realized this morning that this time a couple of years ago, I was studying at 京都精華大学 (Kyoto Seika University). I’m in the midst of reading more books for review, so I thought I would take a pleasant stroll down memory lane. When I talk about shopping, I don’t mean shopping in a mall or an arcade (though I assure you, I did plenty of that) — I’m talking about having my lunch at the college cafeteria and then rushing out to the quad. On sunny days, many students will tote about a plastic picnic blanket and spread their very gently used clothes, CDs, and other fun things. And so my friends and I would rejoice more than usual when the sun was shining. We’d stuff curry and karaage and udon in our faces quickly, and then march outside before the other students could look at the items.

I’m not sure if only Seika did this. We did have a reputation for being a bit more liberal than the other universities, especially with Kyoto University just a subway ride away. One thing is for certain: Japanese people are very good at taking care of their things. Just take a look at Book Off, a popular used bookstore chain throughout Japan. Hundreds of thousands of used books, CDs, DVDs, and games, all for a hugely discounted price! In Japan, many new things cost a pretty penny. A simple 12-track CD could cost you Y4800 at the department store, but if you’re patient enough, you could snag the same CD for Y400 at Book Off! Of course, you have to be a good year or two patient, but just have a look at how different that pricing is — in America, that’s a jump from about $50 to about $5. Yikes!

So, when I say gently used items, I really, truly mean it. I’m not sure what it is, but a lot of the Japanese girls would buy the newest fashions, wear them maybe once or twice, and then sell them during lunch time (unlike American colleges, where you can have lunch whenever you want, our university had a lunch bell to dismiss everyone). Perhaps I’m not quite the best person to ask about new trends in clothing, but I can appreciate the shopping I was able to do on my firm budget. For those practicing Japanese, this also gives you a fantastic chance to learn how to haggle, if you’re up for it! Boy oh boy, those students sure did know how to haggle well, and I don’t have much luck in that department. I found that much of the time, I didn’t have to drive the price down. I picked up a lovely pair of Uniqlo skinny jeans for only Y300 (to be honest, I was surprised it fit me! Japan’s sizes are much smaller than America’s), a nice black turtleneck vest for Y100, and a sweet button-up shirt for Y200. Oh my goodness. That’s about 7 US dollars. Individually, these items would have totaled to at least $150.

On this day last year, I was shopping a bit after classes were over. When I packed for Japan, I remembered that we had to remove our shoes often. Because of this, I had to leave my beloved Converses behind. Not much to worry about, certainly, but that beautiful spring day was perfect Converse weather. Don’t ask me how that works out. In any case, as I was heading back to my dorm, I saw two lonely spreads at the top of the hill. On the pink mat, my eyes widened — I saw the perfect treasure! A pair of high top, all-black Converses! Why, I’d wanted these since I’d heard of Spring Awakening, and all those school boys wore them as a part of their uniform! I eyed them longingly, like a child who had seen her first Wonka bar. But then I saw an equally lovely black sweater with neon green random words in Helvetica. I didn’t want to buy both since my bag was full. What a conundrum!

The kind girl who owned all these wares smiled at me and asked (in perfect English, I might add — my classmate screamed out loud, which was embarrassing to say the least. YES. It is possible to hear Japanese people speak perfect American English. She was kind-natured and explained that she went to an international school, which was why language was no problem for her) if I’d like the shoes. Awkward as I was, I sheepishly said that I could only take one: either the shoes or the sweater. She cut me a sweet deal and gave me both for Y300 and even threw in a shiny pink reusable bag with an adorable skull design on it! It was one of my favorite shopping days.

My moral of the story? If you’re studying abroad at a university, make sure to have a look around your quad area if you want to have some mini-business interactions with the locals! You’ll have a fair amount of practice, maybe make a few new friends, and walk off with merchandise you can’t find easily elsewhere!

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