Japanese cultural dress has always been of huge interest to me throughout my life. It primarily stems from growing up with a 3rd Dan Kendoka for a father, who used to be often washing and hanging Keno Gi and Hakama out to dry when I was a toddler.
Then I spent 6 months studying Kendo myself in Portsmouth before moving to Cambridge (bonus photograph at the bottom of this post), so had my own uniform to take care of (if my dad was alive today, he would be pretty disappointed at the creases...).
Anyway, during my travels around Japan, I was thrilled to find that accommodation we stayed in provided a neatly folded Yukata per visitor!
A Yukata isn’t part of martial art attire which I’m used to, of course, but is simply a robe style garment which ties at the waist, and is worn for either general household wear to keep cool and retain comfort in the heat in “onsen towns” (areas of the famous Japanese naturally heated baths. More on those in my diary entry around Hakkone to come), or are more intricate in design for ladies who wish to wear a more casual form of a Kimono for summer festivals and special outings (cute dates being one such thing).
The thing is, there IS still a very small link between Yukata and Gi in that there is a formality and “cultural process” to the way it should be worn, which we’ll get on to shortly.
In the more westernised hotels that we stayed in, the Yukata were very plain and branded to suit international visitors. Very much intended to be used like a dressing gown, you know? And not permitted in breakfast areas.
Above: More western examples of Yukata in hotels.
However when we reached Tsumago, Kyoto, and Hakkone (For more on my time in Tsumago, check out my diary post HERE), our Yukata was more traditional in style, and was encouraged to be donned as culture intended.
Both Lloyd's and my own Yukata were identical in appearance, only Lloyd required a larger size to accommodate his longer leg length.
Whilst in Tsumago, we learned how to wear and tie our Yukata according to tradition.
Step 1: Yukata is to be worn over your underwear. Fold the right hand side underneath the left hand side of the Yukata so it hugs your body, and hold it there with your hand.
Step 2: Now bring the left hand side of the Yukata over the right hand side and hold it in place with your hand in order to snug you up ready to tie around you belt (or ‘Obi’).
Step 3: Wrap your belt (‘Obi’) around your waist by beginning at the front of your body and wrapping around your back, to then cross the Obi around your back and tie securely at the front!
For men, the belt should rest at hip level (not too high, but not too low). For women, the belt is tied at the waist.
**A traditional way of storing ‘Obis’ are in palm sized pentagon shapes. Photo below**
One evening, however, I made quite a grave mistake with my Yukata (oh the irony) In that I accidentally folded the front of my Yukata around me “Left under Right” instead of “Right under Left”. The reason for gasps of astonishment and ushering of kindness to change it was because tradition has it that only the dead are to wear their Yukata “Left under Right”. I was momentarily a very embarrassed, very much alive looking corpse.
An additional warning when tying Obi too, is to ensure (ladies) that you only ever tie your belt in a knot. A bow was traditionally worn to signify prostitution.
So as mentioned, in our Ryoken accommodation our Yukata were worn after bathing, during breakfast and evening meal, and also worn whilst walking the street of Tsumago of an evening. To take the chill off, a traditional short jacket was provided if needed, which was quilted in texture, and had added pockets.
I did also notice that in Kyoto on the Arashiyama main street, men and women were able to hire “festival” and “dress” style Yukata for their day out.
So wonderful to see.
A couple of Yukata moments along the way in Tsumago and Hakkone.
Below: Not a Yukata, obviously, but traditional attire none the less. I'm the one kneeling at the front with the dreads, haha. Portsmouth Kendo Club, I still love you.