Shaved ice, watermelon, fireworks, fans and yukata—these are the things that characterize summer in Tokyo (oh, and then there’s the sweltering heat, but we’ll spare you the sweaty details). The yukata (浴衣) is the casual, hot-weather cousin of the kimono; it’s light, usually made of cotton or a synthetic fiber, and will keep you cool in every sense of the word. Yukata are great for personal wear (for all genders) and gifts, and if you know where to shop, you can pick them up for next to nothing. Looking to snag one? Read the following guide to buying cheap yukata in Tokyo first.
Yukata: What you need to know
Yukata are worn in the summer months (June-September), when festivals (matsuri) abound. Japanese people both young and old wear yukata when they go to watch fireworks shows, as well as when they attend local events. You’ll see yukata-clad folks dancing the bon-odori or awa-odori in parks and through the streets—and it all looks pretty awesome.
The yukata is a simple garment; it’s essentially an unlined, very basic kimono. Yukata, like kimono, are worn with a belt (obi), which is tight and features a large bow at the back for women, and is a bit looser, less broad and bow-less for men (as well as darker and more subdued, usually). The prescribed footwear is geta (traditional wooden sandals), worn without socks (remember, it’s hot). Some people carry a small handbag for their keys, wallet and phone, while others (this writer included) just shove things down their sleeves.
Then and now
Yukata originated as bathrobes hundreds of years ago, and gradually evolved into high-fashion items. You can still find cheap yukata that are closer to their roots in traditional Japanese hotels (ryokan) and hot spring towns (where people stroll around in them).
These days, yukata come in an array of beautiful patterns, ranging from chrysanthemums and other flowers to koi, frogs and rabbits, cats, and even anime characters. And the item of dress is prolific. Everything from Uniqlo to boutique punk and fusion-fashion outlets offers something in the way of yukata.
Where to buy cheap yukata in Tokyo
So, onto the main thread of this article. You can pick up a yukata set (yukata + obi) for anything from a few hundred yen (secondhand, and if you are super lucky) to upwards of 50,000 yen. If you set aside 3,000-6,000 yen, you should be able to find something decent at one of the places listed below. 10,000 yen+ will get you a better-quality yukata, and if you are prepared to pay 20,000 you can scoop one from a boutique. But really, a cheaper one can be just as nice.
The first place you should consider is your local supermarket—if it’s a large one, anyway. Big stores like Aeon, Ito-Yokado and Daiei often sell a range of yukata from May or June onward; just head over to the clothing section/floor and look around. I picked up several yukata sets for no more than 2,900 yen each a couple of years ago—they were the previous summer’s styles (read: slightly different placement of koi and flowers), and had been discounted as a result.
Chain apparel stores (including thrift shops)
Another good bet for cheap yukata is a big clothing retailer like Uniqlo (for new items), or Mode Off and Chicago (for secondhand outfits). Uniqlo doesn’t always bring out a line of yukata, but when they do, they tend to sell out fast—so keep an eye on catalogs in the run-up to June. Mode Off is a bit of a gamble, as you never know what will be in stock. Chicago usually seems to have a good supply of yukata and kimono, with price tags that cheapos appreciate. They have several stores in Harajuku, and others scattered across Tokyo.
Yukata and kimono specialist stores
If you want to go straight to the source, as it were, you can hit up one of the many specialist stores in Tokyo. Tansuya is a good go-to, as they have branches all over the show and sell both new and used yukata (and kimono). They offer dressing assistance, too. Mom-and-pop shop Sakaeya, in Harajuku, is a bit cheaper. It sells secondhand yukata and kimono starting at 1,000 yen (yes, really) and will help you figure out how to wear it if you need help (plus throw in a tea ceremony). There’s also Wataro in Itabashi, an old-school store that sells some superb, traditional designs starting at under 3,000 yen.
For a vibey yukata-hunting experience that is filled with food on sticks (think fish-shaped pastries with sweet bean paste filling) and several other bargains, head down to one of Tokyo’s popular shopping streets (also called shotengai). We recommend Nakamise Dori in Asakusa (a good chance to take in Sensoji Temple, too), Yanaka Ginza (in Ginza), and Ameyokocho between Ueno and Okachimachi to start.
If your schedule allows for it, go to one of Tokyo’s flea markets for a spot of yukata-hunting. There is at least one market happening most weekends, with major venues being Yoyogi Park, the Ohi Racetrack in Shinagawa, and the West Exit area of Ikebukuro Station. You might be able to scoop a yukata (and pick-and-mix obi) for a single 1,000 yen note.
If you don’t have much time or loathe shopping, you can always order a yukata online. A big plus of online shopping is that you have access to a huge range of yukata from all over Japan. Just make sure that the size and color is exactly what you want before you click that checkout button. Two online retailers to try are Rakuten (said to be responsible for as much as 10% of the kimono industry’s sales today) and Ichiroya, which sells secondhand yukata and kimono from the Kansai region.
There are several other ways you can get your gaijin paws on a yukata. These include browsing department stores (they usually have a dedicated yukata/kimono section, but be warned—the items tend to be upmarket and expensive), local recycle (junk) shops, and even discount legend Donki.
Renting a cheap yukata
Just looking to try a yukata out? You can rent one for the day (and get photos taken) at Tansuya and Sakaeya (mentioned above). For more information on the rental option, check our our comprehensive guide to kimono rental.
How do I wear a yukata, exactly?
Before we wrap up the post, a quick note on, well, wrapping up. Yukata are not the easiest things to get right, especially if it’s your first time wearing one. If you want to try your hand on your own, this step-by-step dressing guide (produced by Uniqlo) for women is a helpful resource. You can find numerous other how-to videos on the interwebs, and the staff at places like Tansuya and Sakaeya are more than happy to assist if you buy or rent a yukata from them.
An alternative with pants: Jinbei
If you aren’t so keen on the robe thing, you might prefer to buy yourself what we like to call “old-man summer pajamas”, and what the civilized world refers to as jinbei. Also known as hippari, jinbei are gaining popularity among people of all genders and ages, though they were traditionally summer wear for men—and house wear, at that.
A set consists of a short-sleeved jacket and either short or long pants. Jinbei are made of cotton, hemp or something similar and are super cool in the hot months (much cooler than yukata, actually). You can wear them at home and to festivals. Look for them in the same places as yukata and kimono—they aren’t expensive.
Know of any cheap yukata goldmines that aren’t in this article but should be? Let us know in the comments!
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