About 1,000 yukata kimono are available this summer at Seibu department store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Classic botanical motifs are especially popular this year, as are yukata in vivid colors, and those in traditional navy and white colour combinations.
Yukata are summer garments traditionally worn at festivals and for fireworks displays, but they've also been gaining popularity as street clothes and among foreign tourists, too.
Yukata are said to originally have been nightwear people wore at home after taking a hot bath. In the Edo period (1603-1867), ordinary citizens began going to public baths regularly, which led to the creation of various motifs for yukata and developed them into dressy summer clothing.
Yukata are meant to be worn more casually than ordinary kimono, usually without a collar, an obijime sash cord and an obidome ornamental clasp for the sash cord. However, recently, undergarments for yukata, lace tabi socks for kimono, obidome clasps in various colors and many other accessories have gone on sale, making yukata suited for broader occasions.
"I want people to use these accessories to better enjoy yukata," said Keiko Nakayama, in charge of the kimono section at the department store.
She recommends yukata with large, white hamanasu Japanese roses on a red background, worn with a han-eri collar and accessorized with an off-white sash. Using an obijime sash cord and an obidome clasp makes the wearer look more chic and mature, she said. The yukata sells for ¥35,000 (S$387) and the sash for ¥9,800, both plus tax.
Nakayama also pairs yukata with eye-catching stripes in purple and light blue on a white background, with a reversible sash that bears a motif that looks like a sash cord. The yukata's glamorous design is accentuated with the sash's sophisticated touch. The yukata sells for ¥40,000 and the sash for ¥23,000, both plus tax.
These outfits make their wearers feel like they could easily blend in at an art gallery or the restaurant of a luxury hotel - places where people often hesitate to go to in yukata.
"You should join the collar tight together so it doesn't get loose," Nakayama said. "Adjust the bottom length so your ankles are only just covered. If your hair is long, tie it up to make your face and neck area look tidy. And stand up straight."
Yukata are becoming popular among foreign tourists as a symbol of Japanese culture and a souvenir of the country. As a result, department stores are offering better selections and services to foreign customers.
Sets for foreign people
This year, Kintetsu Abeno Harukas department store in Osaka launched a set of yukata, sash and geta wooden clogs for foreign customers. The set sells for ¥16,200, including tax. Extra-large sizes are available.
Most foreign tourists who buy the store's yukata are from China and other parts of Asia. Some change into yukata at the store immediately after buying them and then go sightseeing, according to the store.
Department stores regard yukata's popularity as a precious opportunity to increase the number of young kimono fans. For the younger generations, Takashimaya Osaka sells yukata designed by Rumi Rock, featuring unconventional motifs such as cars and wolves. Yukata with a sash sell for ¥55,080, including tax.
This year, major casual wear manufacturer and retailer Uniqlo began selling yukata for the first time in five years. The yukata are sold in Japan and 13 other countries.
There are eight motifs, designed by company staff based on drawings by Yumeji Takehisa, who is known for his drawings of beautiful women in the Taisho era (1912-1926), and the works of Junichi Nakahara, who was active in early in the Showa era (1926-1989).
The designs have traditional touches, including one with vermilion and mustard-yellow dots scattered on a navy background, and another with large and small flowers on a striped background in white and navy. The products, each with a sash, sell for ¥5,990, plus tax.
The sash is not sold pre-tied, unlike some sashes for yukata and kimono, which are generally regarded as more convenient for customers.
"We're aware many people want to tie sash by themselves as a kind of cultural experience, so we sell them untied," said Wataru Kitada, a publicist of the company. The company website provides videos showing how to put on yukata and tie the obi sash. Please visit www.uniqlo.com/jp/