Yukata (浴衣)- History

Hello everyone! My name is Courtney and I am now a 2nd year ALT in Hirosaki, Aomori! Iwaki Mama and I are good friends and have been talking about writing for each other for a little while now so I come to you today with my first post for this wonderful blog! I will be making two separate posts regarding this topic so if you like this one, stay tuned for part two!

Today’s post is all about the Japanese yukata. About two months ago, I ordered a custom yukata from a local shop. The staff at this shop, Suzunoki (すずのき), are incredibly kind and they do have a wonderful English-speaking staff member (Anna) who I have been lucky enough to befriend. I had already been going to kimono classes at this shop to practice wearing kimono and tying obi. At this point, the staff knew me and were extremely excited when I decided I wanted a custom yukata. Many of them were running back and forth with fabrics, obi, and accessories to see what I would like and were happy to help put it all together.

During this process, I was able to choose my fabric and they took my measurements to make sure it would fit me perfectly. It took just over a month for them to complete it. Once my yukata was finished, I got to wear it in class! So today I thought it might be fun to tell you all about the history of the yukata and what they look like in modern day Japan for men and women!

History

The name “yukata” comes from the word “yu (浴)”, which means “to bathe”, and “katabira (帷子)”, which is a thing, single-layer underclothing (usually made from hemp or raw silk). Originally, the yukata was called the yukatabira.

The earliest kimono and yukata were influenced by the Chinese hanfu and they first came into fashion in the 8th century. In the Heian era (794-1185), only court nobles wore linen yukata and this was only to lounge comfortably after baths.

They became increasingly elaborate during a time of peace. Variations in style for different genders, ages, ranks, and occasion were hashed out and decided.

Later, they were worn by Japanese warriors and, by the Edo era (1600-1868), it was widely worn by the public when they went to onsens or public bath houses. Into the early 1900’s, when western influences were becoming more prominent, the use of yukata died down. This was further impacted by World War 2.

Since the 1990’s,however, the yukata has experienced a bit of a revival.

What exactly is a yukata?

A yukata is a casual kimono that is worn only in summer. It is usually made of cotton or synthetic fabrics and it is unlined so that it is as cool as possible in the summer heat. Nowadays, you usually only see yukata being worn for summer festivals (祭り- Matsuri) but sometimes people like to get together and have yukata parties or go out to eat in them.

Yukata are made with straight seams and wide sleeves and women’s yukata have slits under the arms to allow for the obi to be tied tightly without ripping the fabric. Traditionally, they were mostly made with indigo-dyed cotton. But today they come in a wide variety of colors and designs to suit every person’s tastes!

Many people, especially young women, now wear them casually in the summer in personally distinctive ways that are not limited by tradition. They are now favored for festivals and widely worn in ryokan (traditional Japanese inns).

The general rule with yukata, however, is that younger women wear bright, vibrant colors and bold patterns while older women wear darker, more mature colors with duller or more traditional patterns. You can see a comparison below! The yukata on the left is a darker color with a floral pattern and a plainer obi. The yukata on the right is brighter with a more modern, multi-color pattern and a color-change obi.

Men and boys, in general, tend to wear dark colors and solid patterns. The obi of a man’s kimono also sits low on the hips and the overall piece is worn looser than a woman’s kimono. Boys can wear a small yukata but often time they are given a junbei and pant set instead. Below are a couple of images of some standard colors as well as the obi.

This is an image of a family set of summer yukata. I think it does a great job displaying the difference between young vs old as well as male vs female.

The woman’s obi sits up higher and is wider than the man’s. The yukata is also closed a bit tighter at the throat but opened a bit wider at the nape of the neck. There is also a difference in patter and color.

Kimono/yukata can be one of the more daunting pieces of Japanese culture when you first dive into it. There are color combinations (the dos and the don’ts), learning to wear them properly (remember, no right over left!), sweating in them (even the “cooler” summer yukata), and overall just learning about what they are and where they come from. But I also believe that they are one of the most beautiful pieces of Japanese culture and they are worth the effort. I hope you found this interesting and that maybe, you too, will find the beauty in traditional Japanese clothing!

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