If you’re out and about in the summer in Japan you’re like to see people beautifully dressed up and enjoying the warm weather. But what is the yukata (浴衣), when do you wear it and most importantly, how do wear a yukata?
The first question is relatively simple to answer. The yukata is a light cotton version of the kimono. Whereas kimonos are normally quite ornate, and made out of silk, the yukata is slightly less complicated to wear, made from lighter fabric and as such more common for people to wear in slightly less formal events.
When to wear a yukata
Yukata literally translates into bathing robe and was originally intended for wearing in and around trips to the onsen or sento. You’ll still see people wearing it after a nice soak but they’re more commonly worn these days.
If you stay at a ryokan during your visit to Japan, it’s likely that you’ll be provided with a yukata in your room. You’re not restricted to wearing it just in your room though. Nowadays, the yukata is worn by people out and about in the town and you’ll see this more often in onsen towns as people go out for an evening stroll.
What’s more, the wearing of yukata has extended to the summer festival season. Traditionally most yukata would have been dyed indigo but there’s a much wider range of patterns available these days and the Japanese have embraced this for the summer season. Whereas kimonos are reserved for more formal occasions like weddings and funerals, the yukata is much easier to wear so it has become the fashion at summer fireworks or festivals throughout the year.
How to wear a yukata
The yukata is made up of the cotton robe, an obi (a belt) and geta (the shoes). You wear the robe over your underwear and if you want an undershirt.
1. First up is the robe. Put your arms in and then wrap the right-hand side over your body and the left-hand side over this. Keep it in place with your hand and pick up your obi. It’s important to get this part right. If you wrap it the other way round you may find people stopping you and telling you that you’ve done it wrong. This is because the right-hand side being wrapped over the left-hand side is reserved for funerals and will be considered disrespectful.
2. Now with the obi, strap the middle over your front and then wrap it behind you and back round to the front. Wrap it around two times before tying at the front in a sort of triangular knot. Men should tie their obi around their hips and women should tie theirs around their waists.
3. Most yukatas are actually one length and you’ll need to wrap the excess up in small folds over itself around the waist. This can be a little tricky, so it’s useful if you have someone to help.
Most yukatas that you find in your hotel or at a ryokan will have just a simple thin obi but you can buy ones that are a little fancier. These have a thin obi to hold the folded fabric in place around your waist and then a wider more colourful obi that should be tied around the back in a bow. Once again, this is quite difficult to do yourself so we recommend getting someone to help.
Now it’s time to slip on your geta and get out on the town!
But wait! We’ve missed one last part. Some yukatas come with a light coat that are called Hanten or Chabaori, which as you might expect goes over the top. Perfect if you’re a little chilly when out and about. They also often have pockets as well which is useful if you’re heading out for a stroll around the town.