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Traditional Japanese Formal Wear Explained

If you do not hold a considerable understanding of the Japanese culture, you may find yourself confused about the traditional attire that the Japanese wear.

In many cases, even people who have visited the country are not able to make the distinction between two of the most commonly worn pieces of clothing in the Japanese culture — the yukata and the kimono.

If you want to learn more about these traditional Japanese garments or want to purchase a set for yourself, it may be helpful to go through this guide that is designed to increase your knowledge about the yukata and the kimono.

kimono vs yukata

What Is the Difference Between a Kimono and Yukata?

In order to understand what is the difference between both these pieces of clothing, it is important to know what each entails. This is discussed below in some detail.

  • Kimono — This is the more formal of the two, usually being made of expensive materials like brocade, silk and others. The origin of this garment goes further back than the yukata. The kimono — where “ki” stands for “to wear” and “mono” means “thing” — has two different layers and two different collars.

The style of kimono that you choose will depend on the time of the year it is, for example, an unlined kimono for the hotter months and lined ones for the cooler periods of time.

For the winter, the kimono is padded for extra warmth. The style of the kimono may differ on the basis of what occasion you’ll be wearing it at or your social status (historically).

  • Yukata — If you are looking for a garment that is more easily accessible and cheaper to purchase, the yukata may be more suitable for you. Usually built using lighter materials like cotton, this garment is categorized as informal, which means that you don’t really need an occasion to whip out a yukata, which roughly translates to bathing cloth and is often referred to as a summer kimono.

As there is no limitation on what a yukata looks like, there is more of a chance to experiment with the kind of patterns, colors and styles that you can use for your yukata.

When Do You Wear a Kimono?

The kimono is made up of four different pieces of cloth that are put together to give a ‘T’ shape. There are many different folds that add a degree of formality to this garment.

The entire look comes together with an obi, which is a belt that secures the intricacy of the outfit. This makes the kimono ideal for formal occasions and ceremonies that need you to step out with your best foot forward.

While many people may not be able to tell the difference between a kimono and a yukata, a look at both these garments will be enough for you to understand why kimonos are more ideal for ceremonial events.

As the kimono is usually made up of multiple high-quality layers — often lined — it is more suitable for the cooler months of the year.


When Do You Wear a Yukata?

The yukata is usually much brighter than the kimono, as there is no restriction on what colors and patterns you can incorporate.

This traditional garment is worn for many different festive occasions, for example, parties, public events, festivals and more.

However, you might not want to wear the yukata for more formal occasions that call for a kimono, which has an overall more expensive appeal.

The yukata is more appropriate for the summers, as it is usually much lighter than the kimono.

Made using fabrics like cotton, which are more breathable and ideal for the hot summer, the yukata also works well for the times that you have stepped out of a bath as it is relatively quick drying.

If you are stepping out for a festival in Japan, you may want to look out for a synthetic yukata, which may help in keeping you dry.

shop yukata

Can Men Wear Yukata and Kimono?

The kimono and yukata are not gender specific, which means that they can be worn by both men and women.

While the kimono is more formal and therefore worn for ceremonial occasions by men and women, the yukata wasn’t always as widely worn by men but its convenience and comfort make it a popular option now.

One major difference between the kimono and yukata for men and women is the color palette that people choose.

For example, the kimono worn by women tend to be brighter or with deeper hues, while men opt for more muted tones.

Similarly, when it comes to the yukata, the male versions tend to be of darker colors and not as much variation in colors, while women tend to be more bold with their choices in patterns and colors when it comes to yukata.

There may also be more variations to the kimono and yukata when it is worn by men.

Things to Know

While the kimono is a term that is widely used to describe the traditional Japanese attire, there are many different types of kimono that are available.

Some interesting forms are the semi-formal homongi, the more casual tsukesage, the Kuro-Tomesode that is worn by married women at formal occasions, the Iro-Tomesode that is worn by unmarried women at similar occasions and more.

There are multiple designs available for purchase, which can sometimes baffle you about what works and what does not.

If you are confused about whether the yukata or the kimono is more suitable for your requirements, there are a couple of questions you must ask yourself.

First, what time of the year are you planning to wear it? If it’s going to be quite hot and you want to stay cool, the yukata may be the better option for you as the kimono tends to be heavier and warmer.

Second, what is the occasion that you’ll be wearing the garment for? If it is a ceremonial occasion, a kimono may be more suitable, but the yukata will work better for parties and festivals!

Japanese Wooden Kokeshi Dolls Explained

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls — All You Need to Know

Japanese culture is a famously artistic one and boasts of various kinds of artistic traditions. Through the different dynasties and ages that the Japanese civilization has been through, different practices and styles of art have emerged, whether in painting, textiles, calligraphy and most importantly, dolls. Japanese dolls can be divided into several different categories and each category of dolls have a significance of their own. The style of making these dolls are different, the material used is usually not the same for one as it is for the other, neither are the designs of the paintwork. The following is a short primer on a few different kinds of Japanese dolls, including kokeshi dolls.

What Is the Significance of Kokeshi Dolls?

Kokeshi dolls are Japanese wooden dolls that have a simple design without arms or legs. For centuries they have been handcrafted and are often used as toys for children. The dolls typically only have a simple torso, usually, a cylindrical shape, and a head — though modern designs are slightly more elaborate and may add a layer of hair. They sometimes have floral designs on the body made with thin, painted lines. 

Popular history traces kokeshi dolls to the Edo period (17th-19th century) where they were crafted as souvenirs for people visiting the hot springs in Tōhoku, in the north-eastern region of the country. Since Japan is volcanically active, it is not hard to find natural hot springs all over the island nation. Today, they are popular souvenirs for tourists to take back from Japan and make for great toys for the children as well.

What Does Kokeshi Mean in English?

It is difficult to find an exact translation for kokeshi in English. There are a few different ways that kokeshi is spelled — the traditional ateji spelling and the more widely accepted hiragana spelling. Kokeshi may be derived from wooden ( ki, ko) or small ( ko). ‘Keshi’ may mean dolls (芥子). Of course, it is difficult to arrive at a direct translation into English.

There is also a darker, more sordid theory attached with kokeshi dolls. It is that the suffix ‘keshi’ may have been derived from the word ‘kesu’, which means to erase or remove. ‘Ko’ means either ‘small’ or ‘child’. When the two are symbols are put together, it points to practices of infanticide which has been found to be common during bouts of extreme poverty during the Edo period. The kokeshi doll would come to represent the child who has passed away in the household and would be placed in the shrine in his or her honor. There is no way to historically validate this but it is still a popular theory that has been going around for a while.

Are Kokeshi Dolls the Same as Daruma Dolls?

Not quite. While both kokeshi and daruma dolls are wooden dolls that are built without arms and legs, the ritual significance of daruma dolls is different. Daruma dolls are hollow, wooden dolls that depict the face of a bearded man. The doll is usually presented as a gift for encouragement. The two eyes of the figure are left blank. When you set out to do something, you paint into the left eye. Once that goal has been achieved, the right eye is painted. The completed doll is then a souvenir of that achievement. Daruma dolls are a popular symbol of Japanese folk art and can frequently be seen in tattoos. Since the doll is a symbol of good luck, by having the doll tattooed on your body, you can carry the talisman with you at all times. 

What Does Daruma-San Mean?

Daruma-san is a popular children’s game which is similar to what is called ‘Statues’ and ‘Red Light, Green Light’ in some cultures. There is a den identified as ‘it’. The ‘it’ is supposed to shut their eyes and turn their back towards the other players. The ‘it’ then says Daruma-san ga koronda, which roughly translates to — “the Daruma doll fell over”. The objective of the game is that all the other players have to come as close to the den without being seen. 

Now, What Is a Kimmidoll?

Kimmidolls are the dolls you may have seen outside of Japan, most commonly. They can be confused for traditional Japanese dolls, but they are actually a contemporary take on various kinds of traditional dolls. They are inspired closely by Japanese kokeshi dolls and embody the simplicity of these traditional dolls. They can be purchased easily online and come in a variety of colors and designs. The Kimmidolls also do not have arms or legs, but there is an element of hair that is attached to the doll, which is usually not seen in the traditional dolls. 

About the Japanese Doll Festival

The doll festival or hina-matsuri is held annually in Japan. It is also known as Girls’ Day where families get together to celebrate the future and prosperity of their young daughters. It is held on March 3rd every year and cities and towns in Japan witness hina dolls dressed in costumes from the Heian Era. The tradition is said to have started in the Heian period when dolls were said to be able to ward off evil spirits. The dolls were placed into a river that flows into the sea and as it floated away, it was said that the dolls would take evil spirits away with them and cast them in the open seas. 

Today, the festival is celebrated in several parts of Japan but a common tradition, after releasing the dolls in the water, is to retrieve them later and then burn them collectively at a temple.


Japanese dolls are an important part of Japanese culture and traditions. Over the years, their ritual significance may have evolved and many of them, today, are more souvenirs for tourists than dolls with everyday significance. But they have strong symbolic value and denote different periods of Japanese history and culture. The beauty of the time we live in is that you can purchase Japanese geisha dolls, hina dolls and various other kinds of dolls online, even without visiting Japan.