Summer in Japan, as far as I’m concerned, is… well, it’s hot and humid and filled with massive bugs, but aside from that it’s the one time of year when even foreigners can dress up in traditional Japanese clothes and not have it be totally weird. It’s still a little weird, because most Japanese people are shocked and amazed by foreigners doing Japanese things, but when half the people around you are dressed the same way you don’t stand out too much. The traditional clothes in question? Yukata.
A yukata is a light, casual kimono, traditionally made of a single layer of unlined cotton. Being inexpensive, both of mine are polyester. I’ve worn one twice in as many weeks and I just wish I had another excuse before I leave Japan since I’m unlikely to have many opportunities to wear them once I’m back in the States. Since I have two, though, I might try to find a chance and make someone wear one with me. Strength in numbers and all that.
As you might be able to tell, I really like wearing yukata. I have two, after all (completely different from each other – I didn’t buy the same thing twice or anything like that). They’re really pretty and elegant and more comfortable than they look, especially in the heat. You’d expect something long and wrapped around you would be hotter than hell, but it’s no worse than anything else you could be wearing here in the summer. The obi does compress your diaphragm, so if you go for karaoke, like I did both times I went out, singing is a bit of a challenge. But your posture is pretty great!
The first night I went out in yukata, it was the official ALT farewell party, with most of Matsuyama’s English teachers, the Board of Education staff, and a few other peripherally related people. It was in a bar that’s frequently used for these sort of parties and the theme was yukata. Clearly. There were probably about 40 people there, maybe half of us dressed up in yukata (or jinbei, which is another traditional summer outfit, made up of a jacket-like shirt and matching shorts). And one woman came in a sari, just to be contrary. She looked fab, though.
And it was a lot of fun! I’m usually not super keen on those parties, because the food is mediocre and they’re always kind of expensive for what you get, but that one was nice. We took a lot of pictures, I got to see some people who I will probably never see again, and the food wasn’t terrible. There was a really nice basil pizza, at least, and lots of fries. After enough work parties in Japan, you learn to be grateful for the one or two genuinely tasty food offerings.
So that was yukata outing one! Then, on Saturday (7/16), I got together with my friends Lauren and Nicky and we busted our yukata to go to the Matsuyama summer night market. The market is every Saturday from mid-June through July and there are always lots of people in yukata and jinbei, so it was a good opportunity. Lauren had never worn a yukata before and I had never worn my other one, so we jumped on it.
Like I said, my yukata are very different from each other. I like the black and red one a little more (it’s actually a black and dark purple checker pattern), but the gray and pink has a completely different feel. The gray and pink one is also more cute and unusual – the dark base with flowers is a much more typical design. The red obi is pretty young, though, too showy and ostentatious for older women, so I promise I’m not dressing like an old lady.
Anyway, our plan for Saturday night was simple: our favorite ramen shop (Ippudo, which serves Hakata ramen (pork broth) and apparently is also in NYC), then the market, then karaoke. And it was lovely. I had a really good time and we didn’t get too many odd looks (though I’m pretty sure one guy snapped our picture as we walked past him). If I don’t have another chance to dress up for a while? I have no complaints about Saturday’s outing. It was an excellent way to spend a Saturday night.