On Friday, I talked about Matsuyama’s summer night market and, in the process, mentioned yukata. Now, I know I’ve brought up yukata in passing on a few other occasions, but I’ve never devoted an entire post to them. Until today!
Yukata (浴衣) are light, casual summer kimono. Traditionally they’re made of cotton, but inexpensive ones (both of mine) are either polyester or a poly-cotton blend. They’re unlined and, like formal kimono, have straight seams and wide sleeves. When laid out, they’re quite large, and the sleeves of a woman’s yukata have long extensions from the elbow. The general shape of a man’s yukata is the same, but without that part.
Yukata means “bath clothes” and originally they were a sort of bathrobe. Now they’re still worn at onsen and bathhouses, tied with a simple belt, but are also seen at summer festivals. Floral and geometric prints are the most common, though older women and most men tend to stick to darker and simpler patterns, while bright colors like red and pink are popular among young women. The desired shape is a tube, so sometimes non-Asian women have trouble getting them to lay flat enough at the front, but with some patience they can be tucked and folded into the right silhouette.
As with kimono, yukata are secured with an obi: a long, wide sash tied at the back. Some people buy clip-on bows, but many people learn to tie them on their own, or you can pay a small fee to be dressed at a kimono shop by professionals. That’s what my friends and I did and the results were really beautiful. Typically, the obi is tied with cords (obi-jime) over a thin piece of cardboard (obi-ita) that helps keep the shape and prevent it from wrinkling.
As with many traditional things, yukata went out of style in the mid-20th century during Japan’s post-war race to fit in with the west. However, since the ’90s they’ve enjoyed a major revival. You can get a yukata with an obi, obi-ite and obi-jime starting around ¥7,000 (~$85), though they can also be quite expensive, or cheaper if you shop the off-season sales.
Yukata are a wonderful piece of Japanese culture that I’m always happy to see when I’m over there. If you ever have the opportunity and appropriate occasion to wear one, it’s a really fun experience.