As fashions come and go in Japan in the blink of an eye, one constant has been the yukata, the traditional casual summer garment. For over 1,000 years, when they were used by the upper classes on their way to and from the bath (the word yukata means something like "bathrobe"), they've been keeping Japanese people cool and comfortable in the summer. While colors and patterns may change, women have always enjoyed yukata accessorizing them with different footwear, obi (belt), bags, hair ornaments, etc. Men also wear yukata, but they are more subdued in color. Gentleman wearing a yukata can look quite fashionable if they know how to equip themselves.
Yukata are worn in the summer, and they are especially visible at bon-odori (local folk dance) festivals, fireworks festivals, and other summer events. Made of cool fabrics like cotton or other lightweight materials, they are unlined, and worn without many of the layers and accoutrements required by regular kimono.
Yukata are available at ryokan (Japanese inns), hotels and kimono rental shops, and may also be purchased at local department stores. Ryokan provide them to guests to wear both inside and for strolling around the streets. It can be quite a sight to see almost everyone leisurely strolling around an onsen (hot spring) town dressed in the lovely, informal yukata - women especially stand out, as their yukata tend to be brighter colored with showier designs and patterns compared to the men's.
Some western style hotels also provide yukata, but they are provided for in-room enjoyment only. (Don’t make the mistake this author did and wear it down to the restaurant for dinner, thinking it was just like being in a ryokan.) Some onsen also provide yukata for their day guests free of charge to wear while they are at the facility.
So put those t-shirts and shorts away and slip into a chic, comfy yukata!
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