Summer is the season for festivals here in Japan. Every weekend some district or other is putting together a party for locals and tourists to come and enjoy. There are food stands, game stalls, temporary toy shops, and people all around. Most come with a parade event of sorts and end with an explosion of amazing fireworks. But above all, something you’re always going to find at any self-respecting festival are people dressed traditionally in lightweight yukata (a summer kimono) and jinbei (robe-style shirt and shorts) as they wander the streets.

But what about in Western counties like America? In early September of every year, Saint Louis, Missouri, holds a large Japanese-style festival in the city’s botanical gardens. Despite the lingering heat of late summer, somewhere between 20 to 30 thousand people attend this great cultural event each year. But what do they wear? Judging by the array of kimono and yukata available at the English shopping site A Fashion, people hoping to model some Japanese styles might find themselves in what resembles a crazy costume more than actual clothes.

Here in Japan, it is perfectly common for men and women to go about their daily lives wearing what we now consider traditional Japanese clothing. One can often find women dressed in full kimono sitting between suited businessmen on the trains. Girls might wear yukata to attract attention at a summer concert, and men might wear jinbei when lounging around the house. Just because these things are traditional does not mean they are outdated, and you would be hard-pressed to find a Japanese person who is unfamiliar with the style and fit of such clothing.

Most Westerners, however, do not share that easy familiarity with Japanese styles. Why, you could paint some bamboo on a bath robe, call it a kimono, and many of my fellow Americans would be none the wiser. Sure, that might sound a bit harsh, but let’s look at some of the fundamental differences between what Japanese people call a kimono and what’s being marketed to Westerners under the same name.

▼ The picture on the left comes from A Fashion, and the one on the right from Japanese shopping site Kimono Ichiba.


At first glance, these two pieces might seem quite similar, but fundamentally speaking, they are entirely different. Look closely at the waist, and you’ll see it. The Westernized green kimono is cinched at the waist and accentuates the woman’s curves. This is the exact opposite of traditional Japanese aesthetics, which focus on simplistic forms. Traditional kimono are meant to flatten out all of the planes of a woman’s body and to create a clean, cylindrical form.

This difference in aesthetics can also be seen in the choice of fabrics. The green kimono is very bright and features a loud pattern of starkly contrasting colors and very little cultural significance to the symbols. Traditional Japanese kimono, like the blue one here above, tend to favor paler colors and more subtle patterns. Then there is the matter of fabric. Fine kimono are usually made of 100-percent silk. Yukata, their summer counterparts, are generally made of cotton. However, the distinct shine on the kimono marketed to Westerners would suggest that they’re made of some sort of synthetic fiber, like polyester.

Of course, this does not mean that some clothing manufacturers in Japan haven’t modernized the kimono and given it a bit of extra flair. Many of the yukata sold to young women now have lace around the collar, and in certain specialty stores, one can find so-called kimono in the style of frilly Lolita dresses. However, there is a distinct difference between adjusting traditional styles to reflect modern aesthetics and just plain misinterpreting of the source. So what are we seeing here? Is this a case of Western ignorance or an intentional revision of Japanese garb? These examples should help you be a better judge.

▼ I’d give these two more credit if they weren’t inviting such bad luck upon themselves. Folding the right side of a kimono over top of the left is a style reserved only for the dead and the too-drunk-to-notice…


▼ This is my first time seeing a kimono with flared sleeves and layered skirts, though I image the apron variety has a place in some maid cafes.


▼ Now, I can’t help but feel that an asymmetrical hemline is the exact opposite of simplistic forms. And is that a kimono or some kinky lingerie?


Oh well, whatever it takes to stay cool during the summer, I suppose!

Source: Nikkei Trendy (Japanese)
Pictures: A Fashion