Tips on Buying a Kimono or Yukata as a Souvenir in Japan

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Tips on Buying a Kimono or Yukata as a Souvenir in Japan

Elegant, versatile and uniquely Japanese, kimono are one of the most popular souvenirs from Japan. These traditional garments have been worn for centuries as both casual everyday wear and for special occasions, and will never go out of style. Choosing the right one, however, can be a challenge, and the kind of kimono you want to buy depends on when and where you intend to wear it. Read our best tips on searching for that perfect kimono while visiting Japan.

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Tips on Buying a Kimono or Yukata as a Souvenir in Japan

Material and Price

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In general, kimono have a reputation for being very expensive. This is because very formal silk kimono, such as those worn by maiko (apprentice geisha) can cost upwards of 1,000 USD, and the obi (sash) even more. These kimono also have to be taken apart for cleaning, and require special care when in storage. Fine silk kimono are typically only worn for very special occasions, such as the kuro-tomesode (a formal black kimono with an ornate pattern only along the hem) worn by married relatives of the bride at a wedding ceremony.

Ordinary, everyday kimono and yukata, or moderately formal wear, can be found in a range of materials such as cotton and linen as well as synthetic materials such as polyester. Brand new, these can cost as little as 15 USD for a cotton yukata and 100 USD for a semi-formal cotton iromuji (no-color) kimono suitable for tea ceremony. Check for styles that are machine washable and avoid synthetic materials, which will not only wear out faster but induce sweating and require more washing.

Pattern and Style

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When choosing a color or pattern for your first casual yukata or kimono, consider trying one similar to the clothes you already like to wear. A bright flowery kimono may look nice on the mannequin, but if you only wear blue, such a departure from your everyday clothes might be a bit uncomfortable to wear in practice. These days, it's possible to find these traditional garments in a wide variety of materials and patterns to suit every taste, from modern feline motifs and classic blue floral patterns to denim kimono and black and red yukata.

Men's kimono and yukata are almost always in dark, muted colors like black, blue, maroon, dark green or grey. Traditionally, solid colors or plain repeating patterns like stripes were common, but men's casual kimono now come in a number of interesting patterns.

When and Which Kimono to Wear

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Yukata are highly recommended for those new to traditional Japanese wear. They are fun, casual and easy-to-wear, and some manufacturers have even invented pre-tied obi (sash/belt) and two piece garments to make it even easier. The best time to wear yukata in Japan is at summer festivals and fireworks displays (hanabi taikai). Some venues also encourage visitors to wear yukata in summer, such as the Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo. Many people like to wear yukata or kimono when visiting historic areas, such as castle towns or old neighborhoods, for example Kyoto's Gion or the teahouse districts of Kanazawa. In the latter case, it's easier to rent the kimono or yukata on arrival rather than purchasing your own.

Kimono are not worn as frequently because they are more expensive, require additional undergarments and the obi is more difficult to tie, though some people still like to wear them for an outing once in a while. Various styles of formal and ornate kimono are worn for graduation ceremonies, weddings and wedding receptions, funerals, tea ceremonies and traditional Japanese coming-of-age celebrations (Choju no Iwai, Seijin no Hi, Shichi-Go-San).

The most versatile kimono style for women is the iromuji (no-color) kimono, which is a plain, solid-color kimono (though not black) that can be worn for both formal and casual situations. In general, no matter what the situation is, men wear traditional Japanese dress much less frequently than women.

Where to Buy Kimono

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Where to buy kimono depends on which type you are looking to buy. Fine, quality kimono can be purchased at reputable makers or department stores. Vintage or used kimono can be found at flea markets or used clothing stores, but the quality varies and they may not be as vintage or rare as the buyer hopes. Most kimono rental stores aimed at tourists also sell inexpensive yukata or kimono. Online stores like Kyoto-based Kimonomachi offer the best selection, and since kimono and yukata are made according to height rather than dress size, it's easy to know which one to buy. If you cannot read Japanese, most browsers can perform basic translation so you can check the size, material and input the address of your hotel or rental accommodation.

In Conclusion

Traditional kimono and yukata are a little piece of Japanese history and culture you can take home with you. As long as they are properly worn and appreciated, there's no reason not to wear one while exploring the historic districts and neighborhoods of Tokyo, Kyoto and beyond. When the time comes to choose your very own, keep these tips in mind to help you find the best fit for you.