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Housing, Food, and Clothes

Q. When do people wear kimonos, and how are they worn?

Kids dress up in their finest clothes to celebrate the Shichi-go-san festival.
Kids dress up in their finest clothes to celebrate the Shichi-go-san festival.


The kimono is the traditional dress of Japan. It's got long sleeves and reaches from the shoulders all the way down to one's heels. Different types of kimono are worn depending on the occasion; kimonos for everyday wear are a lot simpler than those for formal occasions.

The kimono usually just comes in one size, although distinctions are made between what men, women, and children wear. When choosing which kimono to wear, people think about the designs and materials that best match the season and how well it goes with the belt, which, in the case of women's formal attire, is about 10 inches wide and is elaborately decorated.

Most kimonos are made of silk, although they also come in cotton, wool, and linen. Compared to Western dress, the kimono tends to limit one's movement, and it takes more time to wear and store properly. So most Japanese today wear kimonos only on special occasions like formal gatherings and traditional events.

Examples include the New Year holidays, the Shichi-go-san festival to pray for the healthy growth of children, weddings and funerals, the coming-of-age ceremony to mark one's twentieth birthday, and the graduation ceremony. Except for the Shichi-go-san festival for kids, it's usually just the women who wear kimonos.

In the summer, though, a special type of light, cotton kimono is worn when attending local festivals and fireworks displays.

Regular kimonos can accommodate wearers of all heights and sizes because their length and width are adjusted using an assortment of strings. In wearing a kimono, women first put on a pair of tabi (socks split between the big toe and other toes), then put on a hada-juban undergarment and naga-juban inner kimono, holding them in place with a string around the waist. The outer kimono is then worn, its length being adjusted with another string around the torso. Finally, the belt is fastened with an ornamental knot.

A woman in traditional Japanese kimono.
A woman in traditional Japanese kimono.

When going outside, a kimono is not worn with shoes, but with a pair of zori or geta, two kinds of footwear with thongs.

A typical ensemble for women requires more than 10 separate items, including three or four types of string. Men's kimonos are easier to wear, but a complete outfit usually also requires a haori half coat and hakama trousers.

Photos:Tokyo Metropolitan Government and AFLO