The summers in Japan are famous for their never-ending pastimes: fireflies, fireworks, festivals and fried food. However, all these wonderful outdoor activities are accompanied by, similarly never-ending, uncomfortable humidity. Fortunately, the Japanese people have long developed a unique outfit that is both stylish, and keeps men, women and children cool during hot periods. Known as Yukata, or Summer Kimono, these robe-like clothes are made with thin, but strong, fabrics and are very easy to wrap yourself in, unlike the traditional Kimono which has many thick, heavy layers, and requires other people to dress you.
Comfort Meets Fashion
Originally donned as centuries-old bathrobes, today we wear Yukata as a fashionable get-up. Girls generally wear bright, summer colors like whites, oranges, and pinks, or with designs of animals and floral patterns. Guys are mostly seen wearing sleek blacks, blues, greys, off-whites and with subtle decoration. The idea of a Yukata is to allow your body to breathe, and not feel restricted by tight-fitting apparel. If there is one outfit that screams comfortable and classy, the Yukata fits the bill!
Modern Yukata styles have adapted to the times, and you can most obviously see it in the women’s Obi sash, which is wrapped around the waist. Today it can be tied in a variety of different bows, or even pre-tied over wires. Children’s Yukata have also become shorter, some perforated into 2 pieces allowing kids to dress themselves in familiar tops and bottoms, or to make it easier for parents to change diapers, etc. Many people even wear their preferred every day footwear instead of the traditional wooden “Geta” sandals.
Yukata fashion in Japan has stayed traditional in that there is a time and place for wearing certain outfits, but the evolution of the small details makes it interesting for new generations to continue the custom. Even the hairstyles have changed, with more elaborate braids, twists and hair pins. Any quick search on Youtube will bring you to a plethora of how-to hairstyle videos to help you develop your own look. If you’re a people-watcher, it will be easy to notice among the crowds how women of different generations style their up-dos differently.
Shopping for Yukata
These days, most Yukata are bought on the cheap at shopping malls like Aeon and Ito-Yokado, or in local “Shotengai” shopping streets. The fabrics will be light, and could be a mix of cotton and synthetic fibers, but will have mass produced patterns, some even flashing anime characters or lace. These quick pick-ups will be wrapped in plastic, usually costing under 6,000JPY, and come with “Geta” sandals that are one-size-fits-all and won’t last the whole summer; hence, wearing your preferred everyday footwear. For Japanese homes, which are small with little storage space, donating or recycling your summer wear each fall keeps your house less cluttered. But, for those who appreciate the finer details of tradition, buying a Yukata made especially for you, in the fabric you chose, will have much more meaning and will last a long time.
Traditional Yukata won’t be flashy, but will exude class and elegance. Men and women can shop at real Kimono stores for these, and expect to pay between 20,000JPY and 50,000JPY. The fabric will be strong quality and more likely boast hand-woven patterns. The “Geta” sandals will be comfortable and have that crisp, wooden, clacking sound which adds the finishing touch in transporting you back to an historical era. After all, that’s what dressing up is all about!
A shopping hack for those who want quality at a low cost: take your date to a flea market and bargain for beautiful fabrics, or previously owned Yukata. Second-hand shops in Japan are also great hidden gems. A lot of times, the clothes have never even been worn!
August is generally the hottest month of the year in Japan, making it the perfect time for companies and schools to schedule summer holidays. Weddings and celebrations are blossoming with opportunities for getting the most use out of your Yukata. The most popular vacation time is known as “Obon,” which is generally a week at the beginning of August where people are traveling, visiting family, and relaxing inside with the air conditioning. It’s also the time for the big festivals to set up around the country. There are many famous celebrations in major cities, but most neighborhoods have their own local history, as well, and fairs to represent them. Fireworks are usually a staple display, and food stalls lining the streets are a sure-fire way of knowing when you’ve stumbled across an event place. During the days, water activities are fun for kids, and iced treats like shaved ice and cucumbers-on-a-stick are popular ways to keep cool. In the evenings, the sun goes down late, but the humidity is more bearable and night lights create a lovely, romantic atmosphere. Some events, like the Agata Festival in Kyoto, take place in the middle of the night! A fond memory for young couples is meeting up at the festival entrance and seeing each other for the first time in their Yukata.
Whether you are on a group date, or out with friends, no doubt each person had their own adventure in dressing the part for a Japanese Summer in Yukata. It’s not common to try to match your outfits with each other, but it could be cute to buy matching bracelets or “Obi” sash adornments. The traditions are changing; it’s possible to make your own in this modern world!
Free Festival Entry When You Wear Yukata!
Good news for the summer of 2018: there are several “Omatsuri” Festival events that let customers in for free or win discounts if they show up wearing Yukata! Check out ones like the Eco Edo Nihonbashi Fest in Tokyo, or the Himeji Summer Kimono Festival in Hyogo. Some festivals celebrate through September. Click here to check the event in Japan!