The Japanese Yukata (The Casual Kimono)

What Is A Yukata?

A yukata is a version of the kimono that is much more casual and accessible. It tends to be made of less expensive fabric, such as cotton or blended, synthetic fabric.

Much like a formal kimono, a yukata is tied in place with an obi or a belt. Fabric tends to be thin and breathable in modern versions of yukatas

Group Of Men Wearing Yukata

A yukata designed for women are often made with soft or bright colors, while a man’s yukata is typically made with darker hues. Additionally, yukatas for younger women tend to have more trendy or elaborate designs and color combinations. 

The History Of The Yukata

The word yukata translates to bathing robe, and before it was worn as casual dress, it was worn as a robe after you bathed. It was also common for a person to carry along a yukata or be provided a yukata when visiting a communal bath or sento.

Sento (Common Communal Bath In Japan)

For a long time, most Japanese homes weren’t built with baths, so communal baths were the only option. 

Traditional yukatas would often be made of cotton or another absorbing material, as they were meant to be more of a practical garment than a fashion statement.

However, yukatas would not be overly bulky, ensuring that a person didn’t get too warm after stepping out of a hot spring bath or other types of communal bath. 

The Difference Between A Kimono And A Yukata 

Yukatas and kimonos are similar in design, though they aren’t similar in purpose and origin. Yukatas also tend to be much more accessible for the average person in Japan as they are made with much less expensive fabrics.

Elaborate Wedding Kimono

Kimonos are often made with silks and luxurious fabrics that cost a lot of money. 

Furthermore, yukatas are casual and easy to wear, while a kimono is often saved for a formal occasion. Yukatas also tend to be thinner, making them more comfortable to wear for a long period of time.

A kimono is often worn over other clothes and tabi socks, while a yukata can be worn over underwear. 

The Chusen Method 

The chusen method is the traditional manner in which a yukata is transformed from a piece of fabric to a beautiful robe. Furthermore, the chusen method has survived for over three hundred years. 

This method begins with folding the chosen piece of fabric so that it appears similar to a tenugui towel in size, which is similar to a small hand towel.

A Colorful Yukata

When this method originated, it was much more difficult to come across fabric that was already dyed in various colors or patterns. As such, this folded yukata would have dye poured over it in order to add color. 

If the seamstress wanted to make a pattern using the dye, they would use various stencils in order to do so. 

The Shibori Method 

The shibori method is another way that yukatas were made to include more color or pattern. The method is often compared to tie dye, as similar techniques are used.

To begin, you would twist various parts of the yukata fabric and tie it up before either dipping the garment in dye or pouring dye over it. 

A Summer Yukata

What Various Yukata Patterns Mean 

The yukata does take some cues from the kimono when it comes to what different patterns symbolize, though the symbolism isn’t often taken as seriously as it is with kimonos.

It’s very common for people to choose which yukata to wear based on the current or the approaching season. 

Yukatas Worn During The Ohara Matsuri dance festival

Therefore, a yukata with a floral pattern could be chosen for the spring or summer, while a pattern with foliage and leaves would work well for autumn in Japan.

Some yukata wearers will also choose which color yukata to wear based on the season, as well as their skin tone. 

The Modern Yukata 

While communal baths are no longer a necessity in Japan, sharing a bath in the form of a hot spring sento bath, or onsen, is still very much a part of Japanese culture. Many onsens will often give guests a yukata, or will ask that visitors bring one.

Yukatas Provided By Many Onsen In Japan

The yukata has also come into style in recent years amongst the fashionable, inspiring many designers to incorporate yukatas into their collections. 

Yukatas allow you to remain covered when entering or exiting the bath, as it’s not allowed for one to wear a bathing suit in most onsens. Depending on the material a yukata is made from, it can also help absorb any excess moisture after leaving the bath. 

Modern Ryokan Or Japanese Inn

When staying at a ryokan in Japan, you’ll often be given a yukata to wear around the inn and in your room. It’s also acceptable to wear your yukata outdoors if you’re taking a walk around town or getting some fresh air for a few moments. 

How To Put On A Yukata 

Throwing on a yukata is not as simple as putting on a common bathrobe. There is a little bit of a process to put on a yukata in such a way that it’ll stay in place. 

The first step is to put your arms in the sleeves, with the open part of the yukata facing the front. Take the right side of your yukata at the waist and pull it to the right side of your waist.

Hold that ride side at the waist with one hand while taking the left side at the waist and pulling it to the right side at the waist.

Cloth Pattern On A Yukata

You’ll want to hold that left side at the waist, as this will help keep your yukata closed. Next, you’ll grab your obi with your free hand and wrap it around your waist, with the two ends being pulled to the back of you first.

You’ll then bring those two ends around to your front. At this point, your obi should be holding your yukata closed at the waist.

Before you tie your obi, you may have to make a little bit of adjustment so that your two ends are sitting on the right side of your waist, with each end sitting evenly.

You can then tie your obi together in a bow that will sit on your right side. You can also buy obis in different widths, as well as obi accessories to change up your look. 

Where To Wear A Yukata 

Outside of visiting an onsen or a ryokan, you may find people wearing yukatas at festivals or matsuri. As a result, if you find yourself a nice yukata while visiting Japan, you’ll fit in well should you decide to wear it to the next festival you attend.

Fabric and pattern usage has become more fashion-forward, given the propensity for yukatas to be worn on casual occasions. 

Should you have trouble shopping for a yukata but want the experience of wearing one, many kimono rental shops also offer yukata rentals. Many major cities have these types of shops, though smaller cities may have some as well. 

Kimono And Yukata Rental In Harajuku

Where To Shop For Yukatas 

If you want to buy a yukata as a gift or souvenir, or even buy one to wear around Japan, many department stores will sell a variety of yukatas in beautiful designs and colors.

Yukatas can range from very affordable to a little bit more expensive, depending on how fancy of a yukata you would like. 

It can also be helpful to know how Japanese women will wear a yukata apart from how to put one on. Many will add a ribbon to their obi in order to keep the obi in place while also adding even more definition to their waist.

Men sometimes wear a jacket, known as a haori, over a yukata designed for men. 

Mens Haori

As mentioned, underwear is often all that’s worn under a yukata. There is specific underwear you can buy for this purpose, known as hadajuban. However, a thin t-shirt and some shorts work well.

For shoes, women will often wear geta shoes or tatami flip-flops. Many getas are made of wood, and it can take some practice to walk in them. 

Interesting Facts About The Yukata

A yukata will be fashioned from one large piece of fabric. The fabric cutting is very simple in terms of creating the appropriate yakuta shape.

One of the more popular colors for yukatas was indigo, as it was easy to create this color with plants, resulting in a dye that would repel dirt. Additionally, indigo was appreciated by the working class in Japan.

How To Make Your Own Yukata

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.