The Yukata, Happi, and Obon Festival: A Slice of Japanese Summertime

 

In Japan, warmer weather marks the switch from the traditional silk kimono to the cotton yukata. Both with similar silhouettes, the kimono’s fabric is a heavier silk worn typically with an underlining for more formal gatherings or occasions, while the yukata is a casual and unlined garment worn as daily wear or at summer festivals.

Kimono (Furisode)

The yukata is slipped on like a wrap dress or bath robe, and folded right under left. The obi, or the sash used to hold up the yukata, is then wrapped around the waist 3 to 4 times and tied in a distinct bow worn on the back. The yukata is accompanied by geta, or wooden flip-flop sandals raised on two wooden platforms.

Yukata’s are traditionally worn both in and outside of Japan each summer during Japanese-Buddhist gatherings called Obon or ‘Bon’ festivals. A celebration to honor one’s ancestors, Obon festivals are held during June, July, and August around the world. Japanese people gather with their local communities adorned in yukatas or happi coats (a ‘half’ kimono consisting of straight sleeves, and imprinted with a distinctive monogram of one’s Buddhist temple or family crest.)

Yukata

These festivals are a form of celebrating the ancestral spirits through traditional Japanese dance called Bon-Odori. Yukatas and happi coats are accessorized for the dances with flowers, towels, fans, or kachi-kachi, small wooden hand instruments. The Bon-Odori is the focal point of the Obon festivals—each song, or ondo, accompanied by taiko drums. The songs range an extensive scope of sentiments: from upbeat and carefree like Mottainai, Shiawase Samba, and Sakura Ondo, to slower and more contemplative dances like Tanko Bushi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do7XbGFOZiE

Obon festivals bring people of Japanese heritage together—whether they take place in Japan or someplace else in the world. The yukata and the happi coat are the garments that link people to their Japanese roots, and allow its wearers a beautiful means of expression of their culture through their clothing.

Although I won’t have a yukata or happi this year, and cannot attend my usual Pasadena Buddhist Temple and Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Obon Festivals, I am looking forward to finding an Obon this summer in London. Let’s dance!

 

By Arielle Murphy

All photographs are with permission from the author, Michelle Han, and Jennifer Gee.

Documenting Fashion – Happy summer holidays!

Documenting Fashion will be taking its summer holidays during August – so we thought we would leave you with some vacation reading while we are away – essays to download from our archives.

Continue to follow us on Instagram @documentingfashion_courtauld and we look forward to seeing all our wonderful blog followers again in September.

First, Rebecca’s essay with film historian Adrian Garvey – glamour and violence in the 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/09/29/sometimes-the-truth-is-wicked-fashion-violence-and-obsession-in-leave-her-to-heaven/

Next, another one from Rebecca – this time her discussion of the ‘New Rococo’ a style identified in contemporary fashion photography, and cinema – particularly Sofia Copploa’s films:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/09/08/the-new-rococo-sofia-coppola-and-fashions-in-contemporary-femininity/

If you feel like learning more about dress history’s development and the subject’s 50 year development at The Courtauld, then this one is for you:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/05/26/dress-and-history-since-1965-from-women-make-fashion-fashion-makes-women-conference-may-2015/

And finally, a discussion of reactions to Japanese fashion in the 1980s by Liz can be found here:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2016/04/29/3630/

Happy Holidays!

How to Get In and Out of Taxis Wearing a Kimono

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Kimono etiquette – from entering and exiting taxis, to sitting on a Western-style sofa

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A guide to stairs, tea and doors

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A variety of undergarments

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To a certain degree the way we move is dictated by our choice in dress and clothing. The way we walk is governed by our choice in footwear. The way we carry our bodies is guided by the way we carry our bags. Or our length of skirt dictates the way we pick something up off the floor. But this is something that we learn for ourselves through experience, knowledge of one’s own clothing, or perhaps from embarrassing knicker-flashing mishaps. It is not taught to us, which is why, finding an instructional manual detailing how a woman should move in a kimono in contemporary situations, was entirely fascinating to me.

Upon going through my grandmother’s kimonos and possessions, I found in among the miscellaneous objects a brochure from 1969. The contents of the brochure seem bizarre and paradoxical: a clash of temporalities between the ancient traditions of the kimono and the modern Japanese woman.

The reader is instructed how to wear the kimono, showing the various undergarments and steps that build up towards the final image of the kimono we are accustomed to. However, there are also pages where the reader is taught how to move and function in modern social situations, whilst wearing a traditional kimono. One image educates a woman on how to enter and exit a taxi in the correct manner. Another shows the reader how to sit on a Western-style sofa. There are also instructions on how to conduct more traditionally Japanese activities: bowing, opening sliding doors and drinking tea without splashing hot water all up your sleeves. These instructions seem bizarre and comical in their simplicity, but demonstrate the change in the body’s movement when wearing a kimono, and how one is constantly aware of one’s actions in garments that are unfamiliar.

These instructional images and descriptions jar with our autonomous understanding of our own body’s movements and how clothes affect them. The fact that women were shown how to move, when they wore this clothing is symptomatic of the problematic position of the kimono in Japanese society, as it is a form of dress that is slowly dying, becoming a cultural relic of Japan. As the roles of modern women have changed in Japanese society, the multi-layered and restrictive kimono is worn less and less. In modern Japan, the average person will wear ‘Western’ clothing, whilst the Kimono has been sidelined to a role denoting national identity and old-world traditions. This has not only led to a decline in the silk industry and the artistry of the kimono, but has led to a loss of understanding of how a kimono is worn, something that was traditionally passed down from mother to daughter.

The brochure is revealing of attempts in the 60s and 70s to reposition the kimono in a modern society, so as to preserve its significance in Japan. The depicted alterations and accessories that create comfort and ease highlight the tensions between old and modern post-war Japan. An attempt that is still being made today with efforts to reinvigorate the Japanese silk industry, and the wearing of the kimono at important events. However, without education in how a kimono is worn, these anxieties and tensions will endure.

Sources:

Kennedy, Alan. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bazf/bazf00343.xml (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).

Milhaupt, Terry. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. Sept. http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bewdf/BEWDF-v6/EDch6057.xml (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).