Japanese Yukata: Modest Tradition Meets Modern Fashion

What is a yukata?
A yukata is a traditional Japanese garment worn in the summer. The name yukata comes from the Japanese "yu" meaning "bath" and "katabira" meaning "under clothing." The literal meaning translates in English to "bathing clothes." Historically, yukata were worn wrapped loosely after bathing by the Imperial court and Japanese warriors, then later by the general public. Informal yukata were worn before and after going into an onsen, or hot spring, as well as local public baths. Eventually, the practice of wearing yukata expanded to include daily wear as well.

What is the difference between a yukata and a kimono?
Although they look similar, a kimono is made of silk and is more formal. Traditional kimono have up to 10 layers of wrapped robes and obi or belts of various widths to create a thick, layered look. Yukata are often referred to as "summer kimono" because they are made of a single, unlined cotton layer, making them ideal for summer heat. The obi used to wrap around the yukata are made of a single piece of stiff cloth wrapped twice around the waist.

When do Japanese people wear yukata?
Despite the prevalence of Western clothing for both business and daily life, the yukata has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 1970s. Worn by both men and women, they are commonly worn during summer-wide city festivals, fireworks displays, and traditional entertainments such as sumo and kabuki theater. It is also popular to wear yukata when going out for the evening and when staying at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn.

How are yukata worn?
The yukata is folded from the right to the left, with the obi tied around. Traditionally, the obi is wrapped around twice and then tied in an elaborate knot in the front. However, it has become popular recently to wear a shortened obi which is wrapped around twice and then tucked in at the back. The obi can also be worn with a "butterfly obi," a piece of fabric pre-tied into a ribbon resembling a butterfly. This bow is then attached to the back of the obi with a wire hanger, giving the illusion of a complexly tied belt similar to what is sometimes worn with the traditional kimono. The yukata is accessorized with geta, or wooden sandals, and a matching purse. Although a yukata is always sold with a matching obi, sets can be purchased that include the purse and sandals, and sometimes also a butterfly obi.

A set featuring brightly-colored yukata, obi,
butterfly obi attachment and matching geta.

How has the yukata changed over time?
Traditional yukata worn during summer festivals and events were generally made from white cotton dyed with indigo ink in geometric patterns. Younger people and children wore bolder, thicker designs, while older people usually wore more subdued patterns. However, the recent popularity of the yukata has been influenced by both the traditional Japanese kimono patterns of floral and geometric patterns with the bright colors of modern Western clothing. The yukata available in shops now, including local department stores, are in a full range of colors and patterns to entice the eyes, while still remaining in their original conservative and modest cut.

Like the kimono, the yukata hides all but the basic form of the wearer, even though it is a single layer of cloth. The obi is tied around the middle of the torso, creating a flat, hard front and back. The femininity and fashion of the yukata of modern day comes from the patterns, colors, and accessories worn with it. Departing from tradition, girls and women wear an ever-changing array of accessories, including flowers, brooches, head dresses and hair slides, bringing out the vibrancy of summer and the flush of youth.

Bold patterns and bright colors are recent features of the
, which were traditionally white robes dyed with
indigo ink. Modern yukata are frequently worn with
accessories such as flowers and brooches.