Japan’s iconic traditional garment, the Kimono, remains fashionable to this day. Though no longer considered an everyday wardrobe, except maybe for some of the elderly population, these dressy robes are reserved for special events and activities. Like many old traditions, Kimono wearing has attached itself to the lives of every Japanese. No matter how modern the country gets, it is part and parcel of their way of life.
Kimono for celebrating life milestones
Life stages is a big deal in Japanese culture. Special days are held annually in celebration of certain milestones to mark the growth of an individual, and in such days, special ceremonies are usually conducted.
Shichigosan is a rite of passage day for Japanese boys age 3 & 5, and Japanese girls age three & seven. The festival is celebrated every 15th of November to thank the gods for the health and well-being of the kids thus far. Aside from special blessings, children also receive Chitose Ame, literally translated as “thousand year candy”, which are basically candy sticks made from sugar cane. These treats are given at the shrine, in a bag decorated with cranes and turtles to symbolize growth and longevity.
The second Monday of January is a special holiday for Japanese society’s newly minted adults who just turned 20 years old the past year. Coming of age ceremonies or Seijinshiki is a tradition that dates back since at least 714 AD to mark a person’s passage into adulthood, reflecting his expanded rights and at the same time, more responsibilities. On this day, young men and women all over the country flock to their city’s local offices to attend a special ceremony. As customary, participants wear formal clothing to further reinforce their new status. Women usually don the Furisode, a style of Kimono with long sleeves and colorful patterns specifically worn by unmarried women. On the other hand, the men usually go for suits or a traditional dark Kimono with Hakama (traditional trousers).
Kimono for special occasions
To the Japanese, Kimono is the highest standard of formal clothing and wearing it for specific occasions denotes respect and politeness.
Wedding Kimonos for Shinto weddings are among the most intricately designed and the most expensive. The bride’s Kimono consists of two Kimonos called Shiromuku and Uchikake. The former is an all-white garment worn during the shrine ceremony accessorized with a lofty white headdress called tsuno kakushi to suggest that the bride’s horns are now covered as a sign of her submission to the husband. For the reception, a more elaborate looking Uchikake is layered on top of the white wedding dress, with red as the popular base color. The groom’s wedding Kimono, on the other hand, is a lot more subdued with black as the usual color and his family crest embroidered in white. Besides the couple, both their mothers wear the Kuro-tomesode Kimono, considered to be the most formal dress for married women.
Mofuku is the Kimono for mourning. It’s an all-black ensemble worn during funerals and memorial days whose use is reserved only for the immediate family and close friends of the deceased. The guests who come to pay their respects are expected to attend the service in formal conservative clothing – black suits for men and simple black dresses for women.
The ceremonial preparation and serving of tea is a demonstration of etiquette and grace, which are both deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Part of the ritual is to have the host perform the tasks while wearing Kimonos, a tedious endeavor considering how restrictive this type of clothing can be. On the part of the guests, the most appropriate attire for both men and women is still the Kimono even though Western clothes had already become acceptable. In the case of females, the Iromuji or the single-colored and unpatterned type is preferred as its design is more subdued and less distracting.
Kimono is likewise worn in parties, university graduation, plus other social and cultural events that require formal wear. New Year’s Day is another special instance when many people are in the mood for dressing up the traditional way.
Yukata, the casual summer robes
Unlike the Kimono, Yukata is a simple robe made of cotton that is thin in texture, easy to wear and rather inexpensive. In the past, Yukatas are commonly used by people as a convenient cover up after a trip to the public bath house. Today, however, it is also popularly worn during the summer for casual gatherings.
Ryokans and onsens
Given its history, the Yukata is a standard issue for guests in onsens and ryokans. This dress code adds to the traditional feel of these establishments especially for visitors who are wanting to experience the unique aspects of Japanese culture.
Spring to summer is the high time for festivals in Japan and among spectators, attending these events in bright and colorful Yukatas is in fashion. Hanami parties, fireworks festivals, and street processions are a few of these events.
Kimono worn by special people
There are select groups of people, who because of their trade, wear traditional garments on a regular basis.
Geisha and Maiko
Geishas and their apprentices Maikos would have a wide repertoire of Kimono wear to suit different activities, from casual events to cultural performances. As walking embodiments of Japanese art, they are of course expected to look the part with the Kimono being an integral element of their beauty. Being a successful geisha is to have access to only the best dresses. It is a tool to convey their craft and elegance.
Sumo wrestlers are a lot like geishas in a sense that both their professions occupy all aspects of their lives. They have to live by rules that dictate their daily routines and decorum in and out of their sumo stables. As far as clothing is concerned, they are required to dress traditionally whenever seen in public. Interestingly, the specifics of how they are dressed is determined by their rank. For instance, lower ranked wrestlers only get to wear Yukatas even in winter.
Would you like to try wearing Kimono?
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Thumbnail image is from Flickr.