What do you think of when you think of something uniquely Japanese and traditional? You probably thought of traditional Japanese garments, Kimono (着物 ・きもの） and yukata（浴衣・ゆかた). When learning about Japan you may have come across them, beautiful articles of clothing that have survived for centuries, deeply ingrained in Japanese society. In recent years, there has been a steady decline in Kimonos and Yukata as western clothing has begun dominating the apparel industry and there is an important need to preserve them and continue to live on for future generations. But what exactly are they? What is the difference? Can you wear one? Where can I get one for myself? What are Geishas? All of these questions and more will be answered in this article.
This article is a part of our extensive series of articles on learning about Japanese culture.
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Yukata vs Kimono: What are they?
The word ‘Kimono’ is derived from the words in japanese, ‘ki’ or wear and ‘mono’ meaning thing. Meanwhile, ‘yukata’ means ‘yu’ bath and ‘kata’ which is shortened from ‘katabira’ meaning, under clothing. Both have been around for a long time, since the Heian period around 794-1192. They are traditional Japanese attire that have various roles in society and have been long withstanding in history. Although Yukata is technically a type of Kimono, they are on the opposite sides of the formality spectrum and they have both evolved throughout the years. Kimono are worn by both men and women.
What is a Yukata?
Yukatas were widespread and worn by the public in earlier times when the public bath or onsen became a popular leisure activity in Japan. However, later on, from around the 90s, the yukata evolved to where many women that are younger were wearing them during the summertime in distinct personal ways not bound to the traditional way. It is an informal version of Kimono and most popular with younger people and children. It is considered a little bit less formal and more casual to its counterpart, Kimonos. Present day, the Yukata is typically worn around during the hot weather months to a natsumatsuri or summer festival. Otherwise, you can find them being worn at a Ryokan or traditionally japanese inns. It can also function as both for lounging and a bathrobe. If you visit Japan and go to a Ryokan yourself, you may be provided one to wear during your stay!
What is a Kimono?
Japanese Kimono is typically seen as the symbol of polite, formal, and ceremonial attire. It is often worn for major formal or festive events and is considered the Japanese national dress. Kimonos are detailed and over a period of time, as the implementation of wearing kimonos in layers became a trend, the Japanese people started noticing and taking care of how kimonos of various shades and colors looked alongside each other. Thus, they grew an enhanced consideration for color.
In the past, color mixes depicted the political rank of the wearer or colors of the seasons. Around this time is when the design we know today of the traditionally Japanese combinations of color, blossomed. What once was worn as everyday clothes were either replaced by yukatas or western clothes as they were less convenient to wear since they can somewhat restrict bodily movements such as running fast and moving the body a lot. After western clothes were introduced, the kimono has begun to drop in sales and less people wear them, or for events, yukatas are worn more often. Nowadays, if there are people wearing them everyday, it is most likely the older generation.
The different types of Kimono
There are many types of Kimonos that are different depending on age, season, occasion, and even marital status in some cases.
Here are the most common ones besides the yukata:
- Furisode - named the most formal type of Kimono that unmarried women wear. It has eye catching patterns and has very long sleeves. It can be worn for , voting, the coming of age ceremony, wedding and tea ceremonies.
- Tomesode - this one is the married women version of the Furisode and also the most formal for them. Designs go below the waist, sometimes in silver or gold. It comes with 3 to 5 different crests.
- Houmongi - literally translated as ‘visiting wear’ that is semi formal and worn by both unmarried and married women. The design comes over the shoulder to the stitching in the back, it appears below the waist and sleeves.
- Tsukesage - Very similar to the Houmongi. However, Tsukesage is a bit less formal than the Houmongi. Komon-Tsukesage hybrids can be found. It has a little bit of a smaller and more scattered pattern.
- Iromuji - literally translated ‘plain color’ it is a solid color kimono with no patterns, but sometimes there can have very discrete designs.
- Komon - literally translated ‘small pattern’
The different types of Yukata
Yukata tend to have designs with flowers or plants on a white or blue background and the white would be worn inside in the day for a cool and brisk look and the blue is for the night when going outdoors apparently since the indigo smell in the fabric dye can ward off bugs. Younger people, especially kids stick to vibrant and colorful designs, sometimes multiple colors and older people tend to stick to more muted darker colors that appear more mature. A young adult woman goes for floral patterns and older women go for darker blue and patterns of points, lines, and angles.
Men usually go for wearing plain solid dark colors.
Another version of yukata is a jinbei which is a short version of yukata. Jinbei count as traditionally Japanese garments but are better described as something worn at home.
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Yukata vs Kimono: What are they made of?
The reason the Yukata is worn more often than the kimono and as a casual everyday outfit is maybe because of the comfort compared to the Kimono. The Yukata is usually made of a light, airy cotton fabric. On the other hand, the kimono can come in all types of materials, it can be different depending on occasion and price. Back in the day and current more expensive types could be made with silk, hemp, and satin. Meanwhile, the modern Kimono that is less expensive and broadly available come in fabrics such as cotton, polyester, rayon or further artificial threads that are easier to care for than the former. While the Yukata is customarily made from a single layer of cloth and is limited more to warmer times, the Kimono commonly has an internal lining and can be worn in colder months. Quality is probably higher in Kimonos.
Learn more about the Kimono here, 16 things you didn’t know about the Japanese Kimono
The patterns you see on Kimonos are not just random, they have cultural and metaphorical meanings tied to it. If you were wondering what these different symbols mean, here are some examples of designs you might see on a Kimono:
The most commonly portrayed birds, the cranes are used for long life or endurance
Taiko or drums is to express joy
Peacocks can symbolize love
Sensu or Fan is for weddings
Paulownia flower, also known as princess tree, for feminity
Plants and flowers are related to seasons
Natural elements are most popular to be used
You almost never see human beings represented on Kimono
Color is also big for symbolism
Red stands for youthfulness and charm, this is why young ladies will be seen with this color most
Black, is associated with water, winter, and wisdom.
Purple, can be about undying love
However, many of these colors and patterns can hold multiple meanings.
Many of the designs seen on kimonos have powerful poetic connections, if you are wanting to know more phrases or words that are traditional in Japan, a good place to start is to read some Japanese poems, haikus, or tankas check out the article Guide to Japanese Poem
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How are they made?
You may be wondering, what goes into crafting these garments, and what makes them so special?
Actually, every Kimono is created from only one lengthy roll of cloth.Kimono are customarily created from one bolt of cloth (a bolt which constitutes a piece of fabric 100 yards or 91.44 meters long), the cloth is called a tanmono, specifically for Kimono. Here is an interesting fact, there are some custom sized bolts of cloth that are made for very tall or heavy people, like sumo wrestlers, that need to have a made to order Kimono by putting together several bolts, creating special width cloth.
For high quality Kimono and Obi, the material used most commonly is the nishijin-ori type which is a type of fabric made in the Nishijin region in Kyoto. This type of work is well known for its well ornamented and detailed weave style, produced by utilizing a special manufacturing procedure that takes a lot of time and attention to detail. It is highly appraised for its great artistry and quality due to the material. When thinking of where Kimono comes from, it is of course most often associated with the ancient capital. In Kyoto, the textile production started around the fifth or sixth centuries and flourished with the government controlled mills succeeding the establishment in 794 of the Heian period capital. The tinted silk thread is threaded to make cloth that has intricate motifs.
The country’s most well known coloring expertise is called Kyo Yuzen, in this style, the color is put straight onto the material and the patterns usually show animals or nature with bright colors in various seasons of the year. This fabric is used for the Kimono and obi. In spite of the cost of weaving by hand, there are some that are completely made by hand and even those made by machines also need a bit of hand making.
For more on the history behind them check out The ancient history making and wearing a kimono
Yukata vs Kimono: Differences between Yukata and Kimono
Time of year
The difference here is that the Kimono is normally made up of a thicker fabric and is better for the cold winter months if you decide to go to Japan during that season. It is made of just one thick silk fabric and there are some people that style Kimonos with fur elements such as shawls or others to adhere to colder weather. During the hot summer months on the other hand, you are more likely to find people in a Yukata due to their lightweight fabric. If need be though, Kimonos with short lengths are accessible to be more breezy.
Delving more into the foundation of the kimono and yukata material used to create these pieces, Kimono are known to be more expensive because they are typically created with silk or brocade. Since silk is known to be a higher quality fabric, the designs of Kimono mirror this. The downside to this is that Kimonos need more care to upkeep.
Meanwhile, the Yukata was initially created for after a bath, for nobles in Japan and due to this being the main intention, they were made most often by synthetic or cotton material so they are naturally less expensive than Kimono.
Yet, nowadays, both the Kimono and Yukata can come in different forms of polyester, cotton, or silk, it is different depending on if you are wanting traditional or less pricey.
Kimono and Yukata come in play for various events. Typically, Yukata are worn casually during hotter months for going to festivals or hanabitaikai or firework shows. Since yukatas are more casual, they can have more vibrant and loud designs whilst Kimonos are used for events that are less casual, like graduations or weddings so they are not as loud. However, people can still wear either whenever they want and you might even see those in the streets of Japan wearing it for everyday life. Also, males are more often seen wearing Yukata over Kimonos.
Want to wear them at festivals? Learn more in our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Festivals
Probably the glaring distinction of the two is in the collar. While the traditional Kimono comes with a bigger, soft collar and often worn with at least two of them, the Yukata can be seen with the half size of the collar and is more firm because the material is different. Also, for the Kimon’s two collars, the difference is in the second collar, the Juban collar which is put below the other that is nearer to the neck. Meanwhile, the Yukata lacks this Juban second collar.
Another difference in form is the length of the sleeves. While the Kimono sleeves can be different depending on age and formalness of the occasion and even marital status. Single women have one extremely long sleeves that can even go to the floor. In the past, this made it so that bachelors could know who was open for marriage. But there are also some kimonos with medium sized sleeves. Meanwhile, the Yukata does not have sleeves over 50cm and will never touch the ground.
Yukata vs Kimono: How to wear them
First, you need to pick the right yukata for you. Ideally for the length, the kimono should be at least your own height or taller by one head. There are a lot of different factors that go into wearing a yukata and kimono properly. Hair, makeup, accessories, and footwear.
How to wear Yukata
To wear a ryokan style yukata (worn at traditional Japanese inn) is pretty simple and shouldn’t take too long once you get used to it, start with undergarments on, then,
- Put your arms through the sleeves and grab it by the front edge of each side, one side in each hand at the height of your waist and make sure the length is the same at the bottom. Remember: the right side is under and the left is over.
- Keep it closed then put the Obi or sash around your waist, men usually bind at the hips while women bind at the waist
- Make a bow You can tie the bow in the front or back but it is recommended to do the back.
- Optional If it is colder, the Yukata jacket can be worn over the yukata. At chest height, the jacket can be tied and sometimes have a pocket and sleeves can carry items.
A more detailed step by step with pictures can be found over here Ryokan Guide: Dress (Yukata)
If worn outside of a Ryokan and instead at a festival, it is a little different and has more steps, check out this video below to see how:
For ladies accessories and hair, style your hair to show your neck as much as possible, an up-do is ideal, and you can add curls at the ends of the tied hair. Having your hair up in a bun, or curling it and tying it back, are some popular methods to style the hair. Having nice hair accessories can make it all tie together with the Yukata.
To wear outside, you need an obi, purse, and footwear, optionally, a sensu or fan can be used. The purse should relatively match the yukata and not be in the way of the sleeves, just handheld. There are specific yukata bags that are drawstring bags with unique designs. Although it is best to match, these days girls wear western type sandals or heels. For footwear, pick something clean, simple, and comfortable with an open toe. If you want to keep it traditional, Japanese style geta that goes with the color theme is good.
How to wear Kimono
Wearing a Kimono properly can take a few tries and can be a little bit complicated because of how many steps there are, however if you are renting one out, the store attendants will probably help you get dressed. There are even Kimono dressing classes as a majority of japanese women do not know how to wear Kimono the traditional way.
What you will need:
- Nagajuban, made of cotton or synthetic silk and goes beneath your kimono, a plain robe
- Kimono - the main piece
- Obi - a wide belt sash worn around the waist. The reason for an obi is to keep the kimono fixed and have it close. It can be colorful and sometimes decorative.
- Obi-makura (obi pillow) for putting kimono on. Holds an obi to a person. It's used by women and girls only.
- Obiage - goes between the kimono and obi. Obi scarf. It is to hide the obi makura
- Obijime - This is one of the most important elements when wearing a kimono, it is a cord utilized to keep a Kimono sash in the correct spot.
- Tabi - socks that are traditionally Japanese, worn with footwear that is thonged.
- Zori - Along with the tabi socks, these are thonged and flat sandals of Japan usually created out of rice straw, leather, rubber, cloth, varnished wood, or artificial matter.
- Bag - It is better to carry a bag with a handle to not mess with the Kimono.
The steps put very simply are as follows,
- Undergarments To start, make sure to have a Hadajuban that is worn first and the sleeves must be tucked inside the kimono invisible from the outside.
Make sure to alter the length till it is just above your feet.
- Panels Just like the Yukata, get the Kimono and put the right side panel to the left hip and vice versa with the left side to the right hip. Again, always the left over the right.
- Tie Then, have a cord or a ribbon called Koshi himo wrapping the waist. Pull up the fabric to hide the cord.
- Smooth out Check to see there are no wrinkles and the edges of the Kimon are balanced.
- Second tie Now use a date jime sash around your waist over the first Koshi himo
- Obi Wrap an Obi to tie the look together and ribbon in the back
For a more detailed step by step with pictures look here at How to Wear a Kimono – With Step-by-Step Pictures and Video
Men’s Yukata vs Kimono
The yukata and kimono are not just exclusive to just women. Although, Kimono seem to be more in demand with women than with men, there are also options for men. Men's Kimono designs are typically more orthodox in patterns and colors. Normally, men's kimono are unmixed solid colors of blue, grey, or brown with similarly muted obi to tie it. There are some other differences in Men's kimono than Women’s. One is that it does not have holes under the arms for men.
Professional sumo wrestlers can be commonly seen wearing the kimono due to being essential to wear traditionally Japanese attire whenever emerging in the public eye.
For ceremonial events, worn overtop of a white under Kimono and hakama, which are customary Japanese trousers, men often wear a montsuki, which is a formal black silk kimono.
Similar to women, Men also wear zori, yet it is not necessary to wear the tabi socks with their zori like women do.
As with the women's kimono, mens also have different types. As referred to earlier, the men's most formal kimono type is called the Montsuki Haori Hakama The word 'Haori' is in reference to the lightweight jacket, while the word 'hakama' is describing the loose bottoms. Used in similar occasions as the women's kimono. The material used for the Hakama is sendaihira, or a silk that originated from the Sendai region of Japan. It comes with kamon or a Japanese heraldic mark, the more of these kamon mean more formal and higher rank. The black version of them are more formal while the color ones are more casual.
If you are not into pants, there is a different version of men’s kimono called the nagagi which also has haori and instead of the pants, it just goes to the bottom like the women’s. You can merge the haori and nagagi or just wear the nagagi by itself.
There may not be as many kimono options for men as the women but there are great options for yukata. Men’s yukata typically has shorter sleeves. Before, men’s were just blue but due to a rise in popularity around the 1990s, a wider range of shades and patterns are now accessible.
If you want to know more in depth about the Men’s Kimono, this Kimono manners, behaviour, etiquette and more explains in detail for men in kimono.
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Yukata vs Kimono: When to wear
When you wear Yukata or Kimono varies and dictates the type of style you wear. The most common occasions for Kimonos are weddings, graduations, and tea ceremonies. Yukatas can be worn more so whenever you please.
Also, try to match with the seasons and environments, for the fall, red, dark green, and brown are good. While during the winter, colder months, darker shades like black and dark red. Spring would be more floral and pink whilst summer should be brighter shades like yellow and blue.
For Kimonos, they are mainly reserved for special occasions. Some notable ones that haven’t been mentioned yet are Seijin Shiki ‘seijin’ means adult and ‘shiki’ means ceremony, which is a coming of age ceremony. This juncture is for welcoming young adults to adulthood. To be qualified, they must have become 20 years old anytime between 2nd of April of the last year and 1st of April for the present year. On that day you will probably see scores of people in kimono all around Japan.
If you want to wear a Kimono to a tea ceremony, a great place to start is on our article Ultimate Guide to Japanese Tea to learn more about it, so you’re well prepared.
Yukata vs Kimono: Should foreigners wear Kimono?
A common worry seen amongst foreigners and those that are non japanese is if it is okay for them to wear kimonos. You may be worried, is it considered cultural appropriation or appreciation? Fear not!
It is encouraged
Although Kimonos are traditionally japanese clothing and mainly worn by the japanese, most people do not mind foreigners wearing them, it is even encouraged, so long as they are worn and treated respectfully. As mentioned earlier, the kimono industry has seen a steady decline over the years due to the widespread use of western clothing in everyday life, therefore the shops that rent and sell them rely on foreigners to continue buying and renting them out. The government even has taken measures to try and help them out as it is important to continue preserving this historical type of clothing.
Wear them with pride.
Etiquette and manners when wearing them
Before wearing one, knowing the etiquettes and following them is encouraged. Although it is not expected of those not from japan to know everything, knowing some makes sure you remain respectful and actually can immerse you deeper into the culture.
The most important rule that applies to both Yukatas and Kimonos is to wear left over right always. This is because the right over left is reserved for the dead so if you are alive and breathing, the left side goes over the right side. Additionally, wear your obi on the back all the time. When sitting in one, seiza is the best dignified sitting position. This is an upright position, kneeling with legs tucked under you.
Yukata vs Kimono: Where to get them
While reading this, I bet you thought to yourself, I want to try one on for myself! Well there are multiple options. The first obvious one is to buy a kimono or yukata. However, the price can really add up, especially considering all the accessories that go along with the Kimono. The price of material really changes depending on the quality, style, and coloring procedure. A typical kimono made of wool can be around $240 while a cotton one is much less, at $40. But with silk, it is around $245 or more. A formal one can even be $800. With completely handmade Kimonos it can even cost more.
On the other hand, Yukata is much less expensive and lately, there are great deals for sets with everything you need inside like the Obi and sandals. Sets can be the low price of $20-$50 and there are even high quality sets that can be found for under $100. This could be a great gift or souvenir!
But, chances are, you are not going to wear it often, and maybe you only want to try it once. For that, the most popular option for tourists or foreigners is to rent one out. This is not only a more economically efficient choice it is also better for the environment. There are lots of little shops near popular tourist attractions in places like Kyoto. There are many different plans and packages with photography included as well. Here are a few example stores, most of these can be reserved online:
A store called, ‘Vasara’ with many locations including Shinjuku, Asakusa, Ikebukuro, and more to rent out Kimono or Yukata, the plans start at 2900 yen or $26 The English website here Vasara Kimono Rental
There is also a store called, ‘Sakura Photo Studio’ in Asakusa which starts from 3000yen or roughly $28 per person with tax included, all accessories, hair set included.
The website in Japanese and English Sakura Photo Kimono
Another option is, ‘Kimono Tokyo Harajuku’ located in Harajuku, starting at 3800 yen or roughly $35 kimono rental. Here is the English website Kimono Tokyo Harajuku
The first option is ‘Kyoto Kimono rental Sakura’ located in Shimogyo Ward, Nagaharacho. Kimono rental price around 5000 yen or $46 Yukata rental at 4000 yen or $37
Their English website can be found Kimono Rental Sakura
Another is ‘Kimono Wargo Kiyomizuzaka Store’ located in Higashiyama Ward, Gojobashihigashi. Starting from 2980 yen or $27. The English site is Kiyomizudera Kimono Wargo
Lastly, an option is ‘Rental Kimono Okamoto Kiyomizudera Shop’ located in Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward with set plans starting at 2980 yen or $27.
Website in English Okamoto Kimono Rental
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Yukata vs Kimono: Best places to get pictures in kimono
Of course if you decide to wear these you want to take pictures to commemorate this once in a blue moon event. Perhaps just as important as the kimono or yukata itself is the surroundings and background! It is strongly encouraged that they are worn either during the spring or autumn season for the best captures. In the springtime late march to early april, you can stand under the cherry blossoms or sakura to get a beautiful image with a blooming pink background. Alternatively, if you do so during the fall season, you can get a great photo opportunity with the Japanese maple or momiji. For a red, orange, and yellow scene.
Either way, the best spots in all of japan would have to be Kyoto. Within Kyoto, some amazing options would be the Gion Tatsumi Bridge, Yasaka Kamimachi Street, or the Kiyomizu temple so you can be alongside famous landmarks with rich history. However, if you are staying in the Kanto region, Tokyo has many great locations as well. Asakusa, shinjuku gyoen, or even Kawagoe which is located in Saitama and nicknamed little edo and as the nickname suggests, it looks like a smaller version of Kyoto. There, you can find traditional style buildings and streets as well as other people wearing yukatas or kimonos!
Any option you choose we hope you can get a great shot with your outfit.
Yukata vs Kimono: Geisha
Learning all about the Kimono, how cool would it be to have a job wearing them? Well guess what, it exists for Geishas. However, Geishas are much more than just ladies in Kimonos, they are traditional japanese entertainers and performance artists that are trained rigorously to get to the full Geisha status. They dance, sing, perform, and conversate with people and wear a kimono that usually has a long trail. Along with it, they wear customary hairstyles and oshiroi makeup that is white powder foundation. Along with bright red lipstick, a stark contrast. Although now a profession distinguished with predominantly women workers, in the past, most of the geishas were male. A few Geishas have been named by the Japanese Government as the nation’s living treasures, which is the most prestigious artistic award obtainable in the island nation.
If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one walking around while you are visiting places like Kyoto, thought to be the birthplace of Geishas. They are often booked and working for wealthy customers in teahouses. They are usually busy and on the way to clients so it is important not to be in their way or hound them for selfies. However, many people like to snap a couple pictures of them on the go.
If you want to know more about how to meet a Geisha or try and run into them, check out Geishas in Kyoto: 7 things you should know!
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Helpful Kimono vocabulary in Japanese
Although a lot of new japanese words related to the kimono have already been mentioned, here are a few more that you may hear.
Haori: A traditional kimono jacket worn open, over a robe.
Geta: It is a bit like clogs and like zori but they are open wood shoes with an elevated platform.
Tsumugi: woven kimono
Bangasa: It is similar to the wagasa. A traditional type of umbrella. Often red or purple.
Kanzashi: A pin that is a decorative piece for the hair, usually floral.
Omeshi: Silk crepe kimono
Some other nice traditional japanese words that are not so common but you can use to impress japanese speakers:
Shibui: The literal translation is ‘stimulatingly bitter’ and this word is utilized to express things or flavors that are unembellished or played down in style. A style that is simple and minimal. Be careful using this word to describe other people’s things as sometimes it can be seen negatively as calling something old and outdated. It could just be used to say that you like shibui style things.
Mono-no-Aware: literally translated, ‘the pathos of things’ or ‘an empathy toward things’ meaning beauty is subjective, and our sensitivity to the world around us is what makes it beautiful.
Yukata vs Kimono: Conclusion: Which is better for you?
After learning all this new information about both the Yukata and Kimono, have you figured out which you would like to try out for yourself? Or perhaps both? Either way both are a good option for those who would like to experience the enthralling traditional japanese culture. It is highly recommended you wear them and see how you feel fully immersed, it is something you just can not pass up the chance to experience. To learn more about Japan and its traditional culture, check out the Japan Switch website!
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