The yukata (Śüł▀) is a casual version of the kimono. It is a robe usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, wrapped around the body and fastened with a sash (obi). Yukata literally means "bathing cloth", and it was originally intended to be just that. Traditionally, the garment is worn after bathing in a communal bath, functioning as a quick way to cover the body and to absorb remaining moisture.
Fittingly, the yukata is often worn in onsen towns. In particular, the garment is the typical dress code for guests at ryokan. Visiting an onsen town can provides the enjoyable experience of strolling the streets in yukata and geta (wooden clogs), producing scenes reminiscent of past centuries.
Recently, the yukata has also become a way of dressing for summer festivals. Increasingly fashionable designs have surfaced to a degree that it is sometimes difficult for the untrained eye to discern between a yukata and a kimono. Yukata for men generally have darker or more subdued colors, while that for young women are usually bright and colorful, often with floral designs. Yukata for matured women tend to be less flashy.
Staying at a ryokan, especially one in an onsen town, is a recommended way of getting the yukata experience. Most ryokan provide yukata to their guests to be worn during their stay inside the ryokan and for walks out on the streets. Note that some Western style hotels also provide yukata on their rooms; however, the yukata at hotels are usually only intended as room wear and should not be worn outside the hotel room.
In some tourist destinations, yukata are available for rent at kimono rental shops. Such shops are most numerous in Kyoto, where you can explore the city dressed in yukata for an authentic Japanese experience.
You can also purchase yukata at the above-mentioned shops or at department stores. Some souvenir shops in popular tourist spots have cheap versions of yukata for sale, making them candidates for the typical souvenir from Japan. The price of a yukata ranges from a thousand yen simple ones to a couple of ten thousand yen for the more exquisite.
How to dress in Yukata
Step 1: Put on your yukata over your underwear (undershirt and socks are optional). Slip your arms into the sleeves of the yukata and grasp it along its front hem, one side in each hand, at about waist level. Fold the right hand side underneath the left hand side, and hold it in place with your hand.
Step 2: Now fold the left hand over the right hand side and hold it in place with your hand while you get your obi (belt).
Step 3: Secure everything in place with the obi (belt) by wrapping it around your waist. Begin in the front and wrap it around your back. The obi are usually stored folded into little pentagons, so look for these if you are having trouble finding the obi.
Step 4: Cross the belt around your back and tie it in the front. For men, the belt should rest fairly low on the hips. For women, the belt is tied at the waist.
Step 5: Adjust the length of the belt ends so that they hang evenly from your right hip. Then adjust the knot so that it lies on your right hip.
Step 6 (Optional): In cooler weather, the outer jacket can be worn over the yukata like a coat. Yukata coats have ties at chest level with which they can be secured, and may have a pocket for carrying small items such as your room key. Alternatively, yukata coat sleeves are designed so that items can be carried inside.