Yukata (a kind of traditional Japanese clothing) (浴衣)

Yukata is a kind of wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing).

Reportedly, it originated in the yukatabira (a light garment for bathing) of the Heian period. According to Wamyo-ruijusho (a Japanese encyclopedia) edited in the middle of the Heian period, yukatabira was a kind of inner cloth worn for bathing. In those days, while a person occasionally took a bath together with others, he or she is assumed to have worn the cloth in a bath to wipe off the sweat and also to hide his naked body. The material of the cloth was water-resistant hemp of good drainage. Since around the Azuchi-Momoyama period, the cloth became widely worn to absorb sweat off the skin after a bath. In the Edo period, it evolved into a kind of clothing favorably worn by common people. The term 'yukata' is an abbreviation of 'yukatabira'.

Usually, the yukata is an unlined cotton garment of the simplest, most basic structure. For this reason, yukata-making was often a subject of home economics lesson at primary schools until sometime in the postwar period. Under normal circumstances, the yukata is supposed to be worn direct to the skin, but nowadays many people put on underwear which is, however, no more than an underslip for kimono or hadajuban (an undershirt with tie strings to be worn beneath the kimono) underneath the yukata. Because of its thin fabric and its open, airy construction, the yukata is mostly worn in summer season, after a bath or as nighttime clothing. It's a conservative style for men to wear sanjaku-obi (a short waistband) and for women to wear hanhaba-obi (a half-width waistband), but heko-obi (an non-dress belt) may also be put on because it was once popularly worn after the Meiji period. Furthermore, nowadays many men tend to add a kaku-obi (a stiff sash for men) to the yukata. Kaku-obi was originally regarded as unsuitable for yukata, but it seems this idea is receding. In fact, it's fairly common to offer yukata and haku-obi in one set.

The most popular footwear for yukata is a pair of wooden clogs for bare feet. Although yukata and wooden clogs are sold in one set, it is possible, of course, to select any clogs with thongs of your favorite color and design. Recently, you may often see people wearing yukata with tabi (Japanese digitated socks) and zori (Japanese sandals) or setta (Japanese sandals with leather soles). Furthermore, some people in yukata are also found even with beach sandals or with sandals for Western clothing.

Because the yukata has been the utmost casual wear from the beginning and it's regarded as impolite if one wears yukata to meet others, one can only wear a yukata to the most casual places. Today, however, many people aren't very conscious of such yukata-related customs, partly because the kimono style itself is becoming rare. Also, because there are fewer opportunities to wear wafuku on a regular basis except for summer festivals and other events where one would intentionally wear yukata, it's no longer being considered even as informal wear largely by young women with comparatively frequent chances to wear yukata, among others.

In the modern life in Japan, people wear yukata primarily for such occasions as fireworks, temple festivals, Bon festival dances and other summer events. Some hot-spring resort areas are making their own development plans on the premise of wearing yukata and geta, which they acknowledge as an important element in creating a "hot springs" atmosphere. The bright colors of yukata and pattering sounds of geta are most liked, as they produce a gorgeous atmosphere of festivals and hot springs, under which acknowledgment people are increasing their involvement in their towns' development plans on the premise of wearing yukata and geta. Also increasing are cases where the employees of department stores and other commercial establishments, tourism and entertainment services are beginning to wear yukata as a uniform for the summer season. In recent years, some yukata have hems above the knee, like a miniskirt.

Lately, in order to brighten hot-spring areas and festivals, people are encouraged to wear yukata without constraint. For this purpose, some ryokan (Japanese-style hotels) are lending or presenting yukata and geta to their guests, and some tourist facilities are lending them out too. Therefore, the yukata has become popular as a kind of resort wear in hot-spring areas.

Additionally, many ryokan and hotels prepare yukata for their guests as night clothing, which is a unique custom in Japan.

Also, yukata may be used as practice wear for nihon-buyo (classical Japanese dance).

Originally, the yukata was made principally of indigo-dyed plain cotton cloth in which undyed patterns were left and daring patterns were laid on the yukata (see the picture on the right.)
But in recent years they have diversified into various gorgeous colors and designs because, in many cases, yukata offers the only chance to wear traditional Japanese clothing. Many of the yukata fabrics have also changed from cotton, as of original yukata, to those containing hemp and polyester. The diversification of yukata has made the boundary between yukata and other clothing less distinct. Therefore, some yukata may be worn as unlined kimono, depending on their patterns.

Because the yukata is comparatively inexpensive among the various kinds of Japanese clothing, kabuki players used to present to their patrons specially ordered rolls of dyed cloth for yukata, although in recent years that custom has become less frequently employed. In the world of sumo (Japanese-style wrestling), there remain by a narrow margin such customs as ranking wrestlers present specially ordered cloth for yukata, imprinted with their names, to their patrons and other sumo stables. Of course, some of the wrestlers may specially order their original yukata using cloth in their favorite patterns. By the way, there is a regulation that no wrestler at work, whether a ranking wrestler or not, may go out without yukata, which is formal attire for sumo wrestlers.

Nippon Yukata Rengokai (literally, the Joint Association of the Japanese Yukata Industry) instituted the day of yukata on July 7 after the custom of the Tanabata Star Festival (the festival of weavers) and Shokujo-sai (the festival for female weavers).

Because the yukata is easier to wear than other kimono clothing, in addition to being inexpensive, it enjoys high popularity among foreigners as an ethnic costume and a reasonable souvenir or an article for mail order. Needless to say, it is one of the traditional Japanese cultures that have been loved by Japanese people.