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August 2005

Summer Fashion: Yukata

A girl in a yukata

Summer in Japan is a time for fun events like fireworks displays, Bon festival dancing, and street fairs. More and more people who attend these events are doing so dressed in a yukata, a light summer kimono made from cotton. It feels great to dress up in clothes that are so different from everyday wear. Eating shaved ice, scooping for goldfish, and watching fireworks dressed in yukata has become a summer tradition in Japan.

Yukata were originally made of hemp and were worn by persons of nobility while bathing. They later came to be worn by ordinary people after bathing and around the house during summertime. Before long, yukata were also being worn outdoors for summer strolls and enjoying cool evening breezes. Most people nowadays wear Western-style clothing in their everyday lives, so yukata tend to be worn mostly for special events. However, more and more kids are wearing yukata as a fun, easy way to dress in a distinctly Japanese fashion. They are attracted by the bright, colorful material and beautiful patterns of today's yukata, and by the fact that yukata are affordable and much easier to put on than a traditional kimono. Yukata have become so popular that many classes teaching schoolchildren how to put them on are full up.

Fashionable girls are finding imaginative ways to complete the yukata look, such as styling their hair using decorative pins. For footwear, while geta (wooden-soled sandals) with bare feet are the traditional accompaniment for yukata, some girls are instead borrowing sequined mules from their older sisters or wearing sandals. For those who worry that wearing hard geta might hurt their feet, some geta are now being made using softer materials that are more comfortable to wear.

Bon dancing at a summer festival (The Japan Forum)

With the daytime heat safely gone, people at one local Bon dance festival gathered in the evening in an open space. "The dance moves were simple, so I was able to catch on quickly," said Reina, 13, dancing in a yellow flower-patterned yukata with her mother, who was wearing a more subdued blue yukata. At the festival, there are lots of different food stalls. "What should I eat next?" wondered a smiling Miki, 10, standing at a stall dressed in a pink kimono with a butterfly pattern and sandals, a 500-yen coin in hand. Nearby, a father was slowly walking away, carrying his worn out son on his back. The father's geta made a clopping sound against the pavement. With so much fun to be had dressed in yukata and geta, lots of kids are sure to wear these Japanese fashions at next year's Bon festivals, too.

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