Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kimono Knowledge: Yukata FAQ

As we move more and more into yukata season, here are some questions I've seen and heard about this fun and casual kimono type.

What is a yukata? ゆかた、浴衣

It's an unlined cotton summer kimono, worn mostly to festivals and firework shows in the months of July and August (you see some in June, but most of the summer festivals are in those last two months).

Who can wear yukata?

Anybody! There are yukata for women, girls, and men, though men don't wear them as often or opt for "jimbei" 甚平 (a matching shorts and shirt combo) instead, which is what little boys wear as well.

What do I need to wear one?

For women or men, a yukata, a hanhaba (half-width) obi 半幅帯 (women) or kaku obi 角帯(men), tank top and leggings, shorts or a plain short skirt to wear for underwear as yukata are a bit thin, and for women two long strips of cloth to tie the yukata in place and an obi-ita or piece of posterboard to tuck in the obi front to keep it smooth. For shoes, wooden geta are traditional but in recent years guys and girls have also started wearing Western-style sandals (nicer than flip flops).

How do I put one on?

Beyond the very basic "left over right" rule, check out Youtube, which has a bunch of entries for "how to wear yukata". I'm partial to the previously-linked Ichiroya's for thoroughness and clarity, but you'll notice if you watch my list above is a stripped-down version of their "what you need" and I skip the towel-padding, for a couple of reasons: Texas heat and I have a bit of padding naturally. ;)

Is it OK for foreigners to wear yukata?

It's pretty much ok for foreigners to wear any kind of kimono in Japan, save religious garments or kimono worn sloppily/disrespectfully, but yukata are a great starting point for any foreign kimono wearer, as it's the easiest kind to collect and put on and is more "trendy" and open to stylistic interpretation than other kinds.

Can I wash the yukata?

Yes. Most yukata are machine washable (while other kimono are definitely not). However, mine always bleed color like nobody's business so wash yours on gentle by itself, with nothing else in the machine. As an experiment I also dried mine on low and had it not shrink, but it's definitely best to air dry them. (In Japan, most homes air-dry clothes, so not much comes "pre-shrunk" and safe for Western dryers.)

Can I wash the obi?

Tough call. I've never washed mine, but you should be able to spot treat with mild bath soap and water. Test a small area on the back side first if you're going to try.

What are some shopping pitfalls?

Watch out for satin, polyester, etc. Yukata are cotton only. Never buy any that has a matching belt of the same material as those are fakes. Make sure it's an adult size and not a kid's (usually your first hint is the lower price). If it's white with small blue patterns, it's usually a bathrobe type and not meant to be worn out of the house (especially if it comes with a very thin belt in dark blue or red).

Where can I wear them?

Any Japanese gardens, festivals, cultural events, or just a picnic with your friends. If you put one on and really like it, trust me: you'll find a place to wear it!

What's that little bag/purse thing called you see people carrying around while in their yukata?

It's called a "kinchaku" 巾着. Usually they're perfectly sized for a cellphone, bit of cash and a make-up compact, with men's being more subdued.

Do men really use fans in Japanese summers?

Yes, sometimes. There's nothing more attractive than a good-looking guy with nice hands fanning himself. Or maybe that's just me...

Are you just making up questions at this point?

I could be. Hey, look! It's people in yukata!

Photos by Corpse Reviver, Wikimedia.

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