Thoughts on life after the PhD
I’m not sure when wearing yukata during summer fireworks displays and neighborhood festivals became a tradition, but I have a feeling it goes back a long way. Nowadays it’s a surefire sign of summer, along with the deafening sound of cicadas, miserably sticky heat, shaved ice vendors, and overcrowded beaches.
I’ve been to dozens of yukata-friendly occasions over the years and always thought to myself that I should wear one at least once. But I never actually bought one, maybe because a) I’m long past the “trying to be Japanese” stage of living in Japan,* b) the summer heat is so oppressive that I make a point of never going outside in anything with sleeves, if I can help it, and b) spending close to 10,000 yen (over $100) on an outfit that I might only wear once a year just seemed silly.
I’m not sure what happened this year (other than the fact that I found myself scheduled to attend TWO fireworks display events, which meant that I would, at least, have two opportunities to wear a yukata). But suddenly the idea didn’t seem so silly, and it only took me about a half hour of shopping to purchase a yukata, obi, pair of geta, and hair ornament, all for around 7000 yen–quite a bargain.
A bit about yukata. They’re made of thin cotton and are much, much lighter than a traditional women’s kimono. I wore a kimono once for a UNESCO festival, and it took five people close to an hour to get me into it. It was fun, but just walking around indoors with it on was kind of tiring–I couldn’t imagine wearing it all day. Yukata, in contrast, are pretty easy to wear. Women’s yukata tend to be brightly colored, while men’s tend to be darker and more open in front, with a simpler obi. It’s actually not that hard to put on a yukata yourself, though tying the obi is a bit tricky. I bought a “fake” obi with a pre-tied bow, not because of the difficulty in tying a real one but because of the price–real obi are long, thick pieces of fabric that can cost more than 5000 yen on their own, whereas my entire outfit cost around 7000.
Fake obi with little cotton ties and a rounded wire to help the bow stand up.
Still, it isn’t immediately obvious how to properly put on a yukata. Thank goodness for YouTube, which yielded these very helpful videos.
When I got home with my yukata I was embarrassed to discover that I’d forgotten to by himo, the little cloth ropes that hold the top part in place. I improvised with some ribbon and twine, which seemed to work fine.
As soon as I got my yukata on and did my hair up with a little flower, I could feel myself moving differently. Yukata and kimono definitely inhibit movement. It didn’t really dawn on me how much, though, until I started walking to the train station, which literally took me twice as long as it normally does. Still, shuffling along in my wooden geta, with their signature clop-clop wooden sound on the pavement, was a fun way to be a part of history.
For some reason I was also worried that I would be stared at–foreigners in yukata aren’t an uncommon sight, but we’re still something of a novelty. No one batted an eye, though. At the fireworks festival I attended it seemed like every other woman was wearing yukata, so I wasn’t really an object of interest.
Other folks in yukata…
I’ve got one more fireworks party to attend this weekend, and I’ll be happy to get a little more wear out of my yukata. After that it’ll likely go in a drawer until next summer, or until someone decides to host a goofy costume party or photo shoot.
*I should add that, for me, “trying to BE Japanese” is very different from “trying to adapt to Japan.” The latter includes doing things like learning the language, abiding by certain (but not all) customs, eating the food, and knowing basic history / culture. The former includes dogged imitation–of clothing styles, speech patterns, attitudes, likes & dislikes, etc. It can also include a disdain for all things non-Japanese, including people. The former stage usually ends in disappointment when the person realizes that, despite their efforts, they are still viewed as an outsider.
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
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