Last night I attended my first Yukata Party. It was quite exciting a soirée with about 80 men attending. The event, hosted by my friends at their residence at the posh Roppongi Hills, started around 7pm on Saturday evening, and the last guest left at around 4 in the morning on Sunday.
Yukata is a type of kimono worn by both men and women during the hot summer months. Since my move here in 2004, I learned that yukata was becoming popular again. Perhaps the cultural ministry wished for the young people to wear the traditional costumes from time to time, if not the full kimono then at least this informal yukata.
I learned that the men wear their yukatas loose on top (revealing a little bit more of the middle of the chest) to allow some natural ventilation. The obi (sash or belt) is to be worn under the stomach area, to emphasize the bulge of the belly, which in the olden days signified wealth and economic prosperity; but with young metrosexual men and gay men being very healthy and image conscious these days, the bulge is no longer… As a result, with too skinny a man, a towel has to be wrapped around the belly to give the illusion of a protruding stomach. I have yet to find out if, like the Scottish kilt and the Balinese sarong, underwear is supposed to be worn with the yukata.
The women unfortunately are to wear theirs with the lapels closed to display modesty. Still, I believe that the colors and patterns of the women’s yukatas and obis are much more interesting than the limited color palette of the yukatas available to their counterpart.
I read a year ago about a young female entrepreneur who started producing and selling inkjet printed yukatas and kimonos. These are to be sold at a less expensive price than the traditional kimonos. Her aim was to get the young people to buy them at an affordable price with hope that if they enjoyed wearing them, the experience would become the springboard to buying a more traditional kimono, thus preserving the national costume.
In my experience, it is very easy to tie the obi on my own. You start with a temporary sash that holds the yukata closed while you wrap the decorative obi about three times around your hip (not waist). At the end of the wrapping, you tie the obi into a knot two times, and once it looks tidy, you rotate the sash so that the knot would be slightly off centered in the back. Then you untie the temporary sash that is buried underneath the decorative obi.
When I was buying my yukata, I saw a ready-made obi: a sash that had a beautifully tied knot and is easy to apply, using a velcro. I was tempted to buy this until I realized that this was the Japanese version of an American “clip-on tie”. So, I learned quickly from the staff on how to tie the obi properly. Later on, I learned from a new acquaintance another way of tying the sash.
I have worn the yukata many times since the purchase. Having paid dearly for it (a good quality yukata can run from ¥22,000 to ¥50,000, an equivalent of US$200-$450), I better put a lot of miles into it. I have riden a taxi, picked up my partner from the train station and have lunch with friends wearing the yukata. My pair of geta (Japanese sandals) was quite comfortable and fashionable too, a little modification from the more traditional and the more painful to wear geta.
With the limited color palette and pattern for men, I am tempted to have my yukata custom made. I have had my shirts and pants custom or tailor made for some time (the US and European garment industry is not really that accommodating to smaller framed people like I am; and the boys department’s largest size is still a tad bit too small for me), so why not have a custom made yukata?