Kimono, tours in Matsushima winning over foreign travelers

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Issue, left, smiles after being dressed in a kimono by Yumi Nakano on Nov. 28, 2017, in Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture.

The Yomiuri ShimbunSENDAI — In late November last year, a female reporter from “Let’s Go! Japan,” an information site for Taiwanese visitors to Japan, visited kimono rental shop Ume Luv in the town of Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture. The website is very popular in Taiwan, with about 1.87 million views per month.

The purpose of the visit by reporter Issue, 30, was to report on tourist sights in the town while walking around in kimono.

The Ume Luv shop is in a good location in front of a sightseeing boat pier with a panoramic view of Matsushima Bay. Yumi Nakano, 49, who runs the shop and has a gentle demeanor, hosted the reporter on this particular day. She prepared a kimono with a showy classic pattern from among 200 kimono at the shop.

The reporter was initially puzzled because she usually wears dark clothes, but she smiled after Nakano put the kimono on her, taking no time at all. Nakano also told her about tourist facilities in the neighborhood, which is popular among foreigners, and handed her a disposable heating pad when seeing her off so that she wouldn’t get cold.

Issue was impressed, saying, “Her warm thoughtfulness is wonderful.” In the article published on Dec. 20, she wrote, “If you go to Matsushima, you should try a kimono experience.” She also wrote: “You will be fine. I got some advice on the secret to choosing items in the shop.”

Nakano opened the kimono rental shop in July last year. Until then, she had been running a shop in Sendai. Knowing that kimono are popular among foreigners, she opened the Matsushima rental shop, although it was a bit of a gamble to open it only on these grounds.

However, her omotenashi hospitality became known through word of mouth, and before long many overseas tourists had become aware of the shop.

In her 20s, Nakano traveled the world as a tour guide. She came to understand that with foreign people it is necessary to take a proactive approach by anticipating what they want, and to treat them with hospitality.

She always keeps in mind an “ability to make proposals that are one step ahead,” as she puts it. “We still have growth potential for tourism,” she said. Establishing the kimono rental shop is one step toward this future.

Nakano is promoting cooperation among people who are engaged in inbound tourism. For the past four years, a group of shop owners in Tome in the prefecture have organized tour programs for visitors from abroad, and these programs have developed a good reputation. They include an “escape game,” in which participants escape from a room after answering quiz questions, and a chanbara sword fighting class.

Nakano suggested that they invite international students in the prefecture to take a test run of the tour.

After the tour, one student suggested, “How about playing the escape game in the warehouse where the Japanese armor is displayed?” Another proposed, “It’d be nice to walk around the Meiji-era streets in Tome.”

Yasukazu Ebina, 53, the deputy chief of the group, said: “There were many things that we hadn’t noticed from our own viewpoints. New ideas tend to come up when interacting with many people.”

Nakano said, “Increasing the number of like-minded people and racking our brains is key to the success of inbound tourism.”

She is always thinking about how to capture the hearts of foreigners and make them happy with programs and services, taking a proactive approach toward omotenashi every day.Speech

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