The Main Differences between a Japanese Kimono and Yukata

Tokyo Culture Yukata 2019.04.02
Although similar in appearance to those who unfamiliar, there is a big difference between the traditional garments kimonos (着物) and yukatas (浴衣). It is more than just when to wear them.

Traditional Japanese Garments

In modern Japan, yukatas are a traditional garment usually worn in spring and summer, while kimonos are usually considered as formal wear for an important event such as a ceremony, in the fall and winter. To get more into detail, we went over four main factors that differentiate between kimonos and yukatas.

👘What You Wear Underneath

  • Photo source: Rakuten

    The first difference between kimono and yukata is whether or not to wear long the underwear called "nagajuban" (長襦袢). Nagajuban is an essential robe normally made of cotton or silk that goes under your kimono primarily to keep it clean. If you look closely, you can see it in the double sleeve of the kimono. Primarily the robe is white, but sometimes you will see people wearing red or blue, or a patterned robe. Due to the yukata being more simple and viewed as a summer garment, you will not need a nagajuban.

👘Cloth Materials

  • Simple and thin yukata fabric
  • Luxurious and thick kimono fabric
In the case of yukata, since normally you wear them in the hot season or more traditionally as a bathrobe, the fabric is thin, light, and breathable typically made from cotton or polyester. Kimonos, on the other hand, are the more traditional and expensive garment usually made of silk or brocade.

👘Socks, or "Tabi"

Since kimonos are more formal, it is easy to remember that with kimonos you wear socks called "tabi" (たび) to cover your feet. Whereas with yukata you show your bare feet when wearing geta (下駄) or zori (草履). So if you see a person who is not wearing socks, chances are you're looking at a yukata, not a kimono.

👘When and How to Wear

  • Yukatas are best for summer festivals and firework displays (hanabi; 花火)
  • Beautiful locations and special events for kimonos
As mentioned earlier, due to being a more casual garment yukatas can be worn in everyday life. You would never wear a yukata to a concert, ceremony, or any other formal occasion. Since it is important to keep to the formality of a kimono, decorative accessories and ways they tye the obi (belt) also differ. For instance, if you see an obi that's twisted or folded in the front, you're almost definitely looking at a yukata, because it takes away the simplicity of the obi for a kimono. Even the collar is different. A kimono has at least two collars (due to the robe worn underneath) which also helps cover the collar bones for modesty. When you wear a yukata though, they base the whole fitting on the collar and having the drape of your neck and collar bones show (since there is only one collar).

Traditional Japanese Garments

There are other differences between kimonos and yukatas like the way the obi is tied, but above are the main ways to tell the difference between the two. If you have a Japanese person to help you you should be fine, but one rule to remember is that you must wear them with the left panel over the right. In Japanese tradition that is what they do for dead people in funerals. So be careful!

For many that come to Japan, renting a kimono or yukata and walking around the city is on their list of things to do. It is a really fun experience and something special that you can add to your trip. If you rent one and walk around say Asakusa, you may even have Japanese people ask to take your pictures. There are so many designs and colors to choose from, so if this is something you are interested in doing you will be sure to find a yukata or kimono that fits you perfectly.
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