Usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, the yukata is a casual summer version of the Japanese kimono, with a history that stretches back more than 1,000 years. The word yukata translates as “bathing cloth” and it was traditionally worn after soaking in a communal bath, being wrapped around the body and fastened with an obi sash.
Yukata are worn by both men and women, although men’s yukata differ slightly from women’s with a shorter sleeve extending from the armpit.
They were originally made using indigo-dyed cotton, but today come in a wide variety of colors and patterns.
Young people tend to wear yukata with bold colors and designs, while older Japanese wear darker colors and more muted patterns.
The left side of the yukata is wrapped over the right (right-over-left is reserved for the dead), with an obi sash tied in a bow at the back.
They are often worn accompanied by wooden geta sandals or traditional socks known as tabi.
Where to Wear Yukata
Because yukata are unlined and made of breathable cotton fabric, they are popular during summer festival events such as the Hanabi fireworks displays. These festivals have long been held to ward off evil spirits, accompanied by street food stalls and entertainment.
Bon Odori festivals
Yukata is the traditional dress for Japanese Buddhist Bon Odori festivals which are held across the country during the summer months to honor ancestral spirits. The festival features a traditional folk dance known as Bon Odori which is performed in yukata to welcome the spirits of the dead as they revisit household altars.
Yukata is also the traditional dress for guests staying at a ryokan and it is to be worn after bathing in hot spring onsen. It is a simple way to quickly cover the body when stepping out of communal baths and helps to absorb moisture from the body.
Ryokan yukata tend to be looser than regular yukata as they are designed to be worn at leisure, with most ryokan providing them for guests.
Strolling through Japan’s historic onsen towns while wearing a yukata and geta has become a quintessential experience for visitors to the country.
Where to Find Yukata
Yukata are available for hire at most kimono rental shops if you want to explore Japan’s cities in an authentic, traditional manner. Or they can be purchased to take home at most department stores and some souvenir shops.