The yukata is a summer-weight kimono, made of lighter material but used year-round in the privacy of the home or bath.
I haven’t decided to buy one yet – my re-appropriated hospital scrubs do quite nicely, thank you very much – but what’s interesting about the yukata has nothing to do with bedtime fashion victims.
The yukata’s big sister, the kimono, is virtually shunned by the modern Japanese. It’s fiscally prohibitive, it’s difficult to put on without assistance by somebody who knows how to tie the four-meter-long obi, or belt.
Usually, it’s worn once during a coming-of-age ceremony, and that’s often the only kimono that the wearer will ever own. Wedding kimono are almost always rented, and that’s when the couple opts for a traditional wedding.
The yukata, on the other hand, is affordable, looks (and I’ve been told is) comfortable and interestingly, provides an uncumbersome way to connect modern life in Japan, Inc. to traditional Edo stylings. As soon as the fireworks and festival season began, yukata began pouring out of the woodwork, and mostly on younger Japanese teens and twentysomethings. I’ve even pasty gaijin wearing them in train stations.
Life in Japan can often be reduced to a philosophical struggle of accepting change, and then how much let go. The recent Howard French articles in the New York Times bear witness to that.
However, it’s encouraging to see a group like the three pictured above, keitais in one hand and bleached-lightened hair atop their heads. Maybe there is hope for a future Japan, where Western concepts of equality are as common as the yukata in summer.