Summer time means matsuri (festival) time in Japan! And there is simply nothing more fashionable to wear to a traditional Japanese festival than a yukata! This casual version of a kimono is lighter in fabric (cotton or synthetic), and is the perfect practical garb for Japan’s hot and humid summers!
The History of Yukata
The first example of a yukata appeared around 1200 years ago and was called yukatabira. People started to wear them as bathrobes to soak up sweat and protect their skin from burns during steam baths. At the end of the Edo period (1603 – 1867), the number of public bath houses increased significantly, and the common population spread yukata culture as both an after-bath gown and as casual streetwear.
After World War II, the Japanese lifestyle became even more westernized, making the yukata attire less common. Beside during summer festivals and firework displays, they are most commonly worn in onsen (hot spring) towns. Ryokan, traditional Japanese hotels, provide these garments as standard robes for their guests, and many even wear them as they stroll through the streets.
CHIKUSEN, art shaped by tradition
If you are looking for a yukata that doubles as a piece of traditional art, Chikusen is the place to go. Dating
back to 1842, the closing years of the Edo period, Chikusen took its first steps in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.
Kabuki: The Stepping Stone for Traditional Craftsmanship
Asakusa: New Cultural Mecca
Relation with Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store
Key Dyeing Methods
During the Edo period, a special dyeing technique for yukata was invented called nagaita chugata. First, a 12-meter long piece of fabric is tightened on a 6.5-meter long fir tree plank. Next, a stencil of about 40 centimeters is placed over the fabric and a special glue for resist printing (bosen nori in Japanese 防染糊) is added to the parts which are not supposed to be dyed. To obtain an even result, the glue is separately applied the same way to both the front and back. The most difficult part is adjusting the stencil on the back toth e print on the front evenly, in order to achieve a flawless pattern without fading the colors.
Another dyeing method is komon chugata, also called Edo komon, which is an original dyeing technique developed by Chikusen. The pattern is engraved on the stencil with a small, semicircle blade, which produces an intricate pattern of small dots or other detailed designs. This technique is especially challenging, since adjusting the delicate pattern on both sides is very complicated. Looking at the fabric from afar, it seems that there is no pattern at all, but as you take a closer look at the simple yet detailed design, it reveals its pure elegance. Since it was only possible to dye two rolls of fabric per day, many of Edo’s craftsmen were not able to produce nearly enough yukata for the whole population of Tokyo.
With the beginning of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), a new dyeing method called chusen was introduced, which enabled the production of fabric in larger quantities. The patterns itself and the procedure of applying them stayed the same, but the stencil length changed from 40 centimeters to 90 centimeters. The glue is applied on a 12-meter long fabric, folded like a folding screen, and when this process is finished, it will be placed on the dyeing table. Afterwards the dye is applied with watering cans. With this new process, a craftsman was able to produce more than 100 rolls of fabric per day and the production increased dramatically.
Chikusen’s trademark can be found in its historical patterns. Designers use stencils remaining from the Edo period and adapt and reform them to the current fashion trends. Compared to Japan’s western regions, the patterns of historic Edo are very simple and understandable for everyone. Simple designs such as dianthus, bamboo, sakura (cherry blossoms), hydrangea, waves and lilies are very common. Today, Chikusen is the only place that uses dyeing techniques from the Edo period.
Things which were popular in Edo spread throughout the rest of Japan, making the city the nation’s trendsetter in terms of all things cultural, including fashion. The “Edo-style” yukata with its dark indigo and bright white color combination were in high demand. According to a book written in late 19th century introducing Edo’s famous products, yukata was one of the popular souvenir item and had significant value.
Closed: Sat, Sun & national holidays (open Sat from Apr – Jul)
Address: 2-3 Kofuna-cho, Nihombashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo