Yukata 浴衣 are the light summer robes, and much different than heavy, layered kimono 着物. Many people, men and women, wear yukata or jinbei 甚平 to the summer festivals (matsuri 祭り). You can also wear yukata to beer gardens, parties, or pretty much any casual outdoor “event” during the warmer months. Many people also wear them when staying in onsen towns.
In the Ryukyu kingdom, yukata would actually have much different designs than you see today at the summer matsuri. Today, most yukata in Okinawa are influenced by Japanese designs rather than traditional designs.
I have both a yukata and a jinbei. Jinbei are shorts and a robe top, very comfortable and light. Mine has a design of Hello Kitty x OnePiece. Very adult, indeed. Jinbei are sort of like pajamas and pretty comfortable. Perhaps it is seen as a bit childish or tomboyish for a female to wear jinbei, but it is so easy and comfy. I think they actually look pretty cute.
Yukata are actually fairly easy to put on, with a little practice. My yukata has a green checkered and cat print on it, and the obi 帯 is green on one side and pink on the other. It is very cute. But the obi is not the pre-tied obi like you see in many stores these days– I must tie it myself. I am considered getting one of those fluffy “ribbon” obi that seem to be trendy lately; they look very easy to tie, just a simple bow. Although I must say, I did a pretty good job of tying the bunko-musubi (butterfly knot) for this recent matsuri I attended. I have fan that sort of matches it, that I bought at the 100円 store, and a pair of geta 下駄 (wooden slippers), though many people in Okinawa just wear island slippers. I have a kinchaku (drawstring bag) as well, but it does not match, as it is one that was used as gift-wrapping for a gift I received. I have some flower hair clips from Hawai’i and I bought a set of flower clips at the 100円 store as well. There are all sorts of little bits and bobs you can buy to accessorize a yukata, if you feel so inclined (hair clips, pins, rope ties, handbags, etc). There are special ties and clips and underthings you can get as well to help secure the pieces. These can really add up in price fast though…
The basic pieces you need for a yukata:
- the yukata itself
- tanktop or thin shirt, shorts to wear underneath (you can also purchase Japanese-style underclothes called hadajuban 肌襦袢)
- obi 帯, specifically hanhaba obi 半幅帯 of any style/color
- 2 pieces of sash to secure yukata before tying obi, called koshi-himo 腰ひも **I actually use a korin-belt コーリンベルト which has clips so it is a bit fancier but more expensive.
- fan! Folded is called sensu 扇子, round is called uchiwa 団扇 (うちわ)
- wooden sandals, called geta 下駄 **in Okinawa is probably more common to see just rubber slippers (you could also pair tabi socks 足袋 with this, but usually yukata is without)
- handbag, kinchaku (drawstring bag) 巾着 with kago (basket) 籠 (かご)
- a fancy cord to tie over obi, called obi-jime 帯締め, with an obi-dome 帯留め (ornament threaded over the obi-jime)
- decorative accessory for obi, called obi-kazari 帯飾り
- hair ornaments, called kanzashi 簪 (かんざし)
- a stiff belt to go underneath the obi and keep shape, called datejime 伊達締め
There are many places in Okinawa during summer and pre-summer months to find yukata. You can buy second-hand and save some money, or you can buy new. Second hand stores such as Manga Souko and Off-House (part of the Book-Off group) usually have a decent variety. Buying new, you can go to SanA, Aeon, Honeys, or UNIQLO for cheaper ones, or specialty yukata/kimono stores for more expensive ones. You can also find many on Amazon.jp! There are so many patterns and colors, it is so hard to choose. I really enjoy seeing all the colorful and beautiful yukata and jinbei when I go to the summer matsuri.
**Note on sizing: Most women’s yukata are just sold as “free size,” and are usually for women of 153-170 cm in height, depending on the maker. Others may be sold as small, medium, large, extra-large, or tall size (the difference is in the length height-wise of the yukata, and the length of the sleeves covering your arm). I am ~168-169 cm, so on the taller end of this. Free size yukata fit me decently enough, though the tall size is a little nicer looking! Most tall sizes will fit someone up to 175cm tall. Any taller and you may need to make a custom order!