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The Evolution of Yukata

The yukata is a casual, cotton kimono that was originally worn for bathing. Before Western culture was introduced to Japan about 150 years ago, people wore kimono and yukata. Today, however, most Japanese wear practical, Western-style clothing and reserve kimono and yukata for special events and ceremonies. Yukata are not worn for bathing anymore, but they are a frequent sight at summer festivals and are gaining in popularity among the younger generations.

Yukata are most commonly worn during the fireworks festivals of summer. Approximately half the women there are in yukata; the style is especially popular among girls in their early teens to early twenties. The rise in popularity of the yukata can attributed in part to the newly available versions made in China and other Asian countries. These cheaper yukata are sold at 3,000 yen ($33) and up and even come with obi sashes. The patterns and colors are showier than those of traditional yukata, which feature dark blue, indigo, and white. High-quality, traditional yukata with more reserved patterns cost 30,000–40,000 yen ($330–440), so they do not sell as well but still attract customers who respect quality and are happy to wear the same yukata for several years. The fans of cheaper yukata are mainly young girls who buy a new yukata every year. “Since it’s cheap, I can be daring and choose flashy patterns and colors,” says one girl who goes to the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, the biggest fireworks festival in Tokyo.

With the rise of cheap, fashionable yukata, new trends have emerged, such as the Hello Kitty® short-length yukata and yukata with spangles. Conservatives do not accept those styles as yukata, but they still contribute to the growth of the yukata market. Sales of men’s yukata are also increasing. Yukata are cool and comfortable to wear and perfect for surviving Japan’s hot and muggy summer. As long as reasonably priced yukata are available, this trend will endure.

——– Reported by Mark Minai

Mark Minai
resides in Japan and writes articles and books on cultural trends and fashion issues.

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