Crash Course: Yukata

The heat is on here in Japan. The rainy season has passed and temperatures are ramping up in the land of the rising sun. Typical summer activities are in full swing – the kids are all out catching cicadas, the fireworks displays are lighting up the night skies, and girls everywhere are shaking out their yukata and getting ready for their neighborhood festivals.

Girls in yukata at a Tokyo summer festival

The word kimono is probably familiar to you, but in the hot summer months, most Japanese women – especially those under 30 – trade their fancy silk robes for light cotton ones. The word yukata is a combination of words for “bath” and “undergarment” and most traditional ryokan (Japanese inns) still have yukata available for guests to wear to and from the communal baths. Those yukata, however, are almost always a dark blue checkered pattern. Festival yukata are bold and bright, with vibrant flower patterns or artistic designs. One of my favorite parts of summer here is going to a local festival and checking out the gorgeous patterns.Yukata in a bathhouse or ryokan are always tied with a thin sash. For a festival or an outing, however, yukata are tied with a wider belt, called in obi. Like with a kimono, obi are wrapped tightly around the waist and cinched in the back. While kimono obi are folded and carefully tucked and usually require two people for the job, a yukata obi is tied in a bow. It makes the whole ensemble look a colorfully gift-wrapped present … though occasionally those colors can make you cringe.It may seem that there’s no rhyme or reason on how to match an obi to a yukata. I’ve seen garish orange with lime green and some other combinations that I would never have dreamed up. However, the trick is to match your obi to one of the minor or lesser colors in your yukata. For guys, the yukata is generally pretty drab – brown or blue – but the same rule applies.

If you’re in Japan this summer and there’s a festival on, why not try attending in yukata? It’s an occasion you’ll remember for years to come.

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