Enjoy your stay in Japan wearing yukata! This lightweight cotton or linen kimono is easy to wash and wear and has been worn for centuries to beat the summer heat. You will see yukata worn at summer festivals, fireworks, and sporting events, it's a good idea to get one if you want to experience summer fun like a local!
BY Sarah B. Hodge
One of the first things you’ll see and hear during summer in Japan is young women and men wearing colorful yukata and the distinctive clip clop of wooden geta sandals. A common sight at summer festivals, fireworks, and hot springs resorts, yukata are a fun, affordable way to beat the heat and make great souvenirs. Although sometimes called “summer kimono,” a yukata is a separate garment made of cotton or linen, which makes it cool to wear and easy to wash. The design is very similar to a kimono. Both are cut and sewn from a single bolt of cloth.
Dating back to the Heian Period (794-1185), yukata were originally worn by nobility as bathrobes, later adopted by samurai warriors, and became commonplace during the Edo Period (1600-1868) as public bathing gained popularity. The “yu” character in yukata means bath.
Clever marketing by Japanese department stores in the 1980s revived the yukata into a summer fashion statement, with many brand-name designers and chains creating exclusive versions. Department stores and kimono shops sell yukata from from June to September. Secondhand shops and tourist areas carry them year-round.
Traditionally dyed with indigo, modern women’s yukata and obi sashes come in a rainbow of patterns and colors.
Men’s yukata tend to be less flashy, and use dark colors. The men’s obi is much narrower and easier to tie.
In addition to traditional Japanese prints and floral patterns, there are also licensed yukata for cartoon characters and sports teams. The Tokyo 2020 Official Shop offers a wide choice of licensed Tokyo 2020 yukata for men, women and children in a variety of sizes.
Yukata cost as little as 1000 yen used, to over 80,000 yen new at department stores and upscale boutiques. Most ready-to-wear yukata come in standard sizes around 165 cm / 5’5” for women and 176 cm / 5’7” for men.
Many large discount stores and retailers like AEON, Don Quixote and UNIQLO sell yukata sets (yukata, obi, and geta) for as little as 4000-5000 yen new.
With its English-speaking staff, Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku/Omotesando (subway station Meiji Jingu-Mae) makes the yukata shopping process easy. There are multilingual signs explaining sizing, sample yukata and geta to try on, and many patterns and sizes. Most cost 6,000 yen or less. They also have several floors of Japanese antiques, vintage kimono, and souvenirs, making it a great all-in-one shopping destination.
Secondhand shops near Harajuku (subway station Meiji Jingu-Mae) like Harajuku Chicago, Tokyo 135, and Kimono Kabukis offer bargains on gently used yukata and accessories. Another great place to find affordable yukata and accessories is at shrine sales and neighborhood flea markets.
Tall and plus-size yukata are available at a number of shops in Tokyo including Oriental Bazaar and near the sumo stables in Ryogoku.
Wheelchair yukata / kimono and accessories can be rented or purchased from Hanayome Kobo, Kurumaisu Kitsuke and Asusakura. Designed for comfort, wheelchair kimono are cut into two separate pieces that do not require standing to dress. Some obi secure with Velcro instead of wrapping tightly around the waist.
If you are new to wearing yukata, it is a good idea to get a pre-tied bow, and many of the women’s yukata sets already include one.
The half-width obi worn with yukata can also be worn with casual kimono, making it a versatile accessory. Because secondhand obi are affordable, you can purchase several in a number of colors and designs. Many have reversible patterns that allow you to wear it different ways.
Since the yukata is casual clothing, there are fewer rules than when wearing a traditional kimono. Here are some tips to create your own unique look:
Wearing a yukata takes a little practice, but many shops will help dress you, and most provide illustrated instructions in English on how to put on the yukata and tie the obi yourself.
If the idea of putting on a yukata seems intimidating, another great option for casual summer wear is the jinbei, a two-piece garment made of cotton or linen that can usually be found in the same section with yukata.
A freelance writer for Tokyo Weekender magazine and Stars and Stripes Japan newspaper, Sarah has also contributed to a number of websites including Spiritual Travels, BentoYa Cooking and Thanks for The Meal.