In Japan, summer is the season of fireworks and festivals. If you attend a summer festival, you will see a lot of people wearing the casual summer kimono, known as “yukata”, which is comfortable to wear during Japan’s hot summer. Maybe you've already heard of it, and had the chance to wear one, but do you know about the history of this famous kimono worn by both men and women? Let’s check it out below!
Original use as sauna wear
Back in the Heian period (794-1185), bathing was one of the privileges of the upper social classes and involved taking a simple steam bath. By today's standards, the baths were more like saunas than the “Onsen” that we know today. However, since the temperature inside was hard to adjust to, they started to wear a single-layer absorbent bathrobe called “yukatabira” in order to prevent burns. At this time, cotton was very expensive, so these light garments were made of linen. In the Azuchi-Momoyama period, (from 1573 to 1603), since they were very light and could absorb sweat, people started putting on yukatabira after bathing, and continued to wear it during the evening. The use of Yukatabira therefore transitioned to being used as pyjamas as well.
During the Edo period
In the late Edo period, around 1700, public bathhouses started being used by common people and experienced a boom in growth. A lot of people started wearing yukatabira after bathing, or sometimes when going out, and its common name was shortened to “yukata”. In fact, clothes worn by very popular kabuki actors looked similar to yukatas, and many people started wearing yukatas more often to imitate them. Thanks to the development of new manufacturing technologies, common people could start wearing cotton yukatas. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), a new technique to dye yukata called “chuusen” (“注染”) was discovered, and the number of fashionable patterns increased. However, Japanese people gradually started to adopt western clothing and the occasions to wear yukatas slowly declined.
Today, the yukata is cheaper and easier to wear than kimono, which makes it very popular among both men and women. Available in many colours, from vivid to mature, and with many different patterns, let’s try to buy or rent one and have fun while attending a summer festival!