Japan is one of those countries that is abundantly rich in culture. With their centuries of history, it’s no wonder. It’s only natural that it influenced the ways the Japanese dress back in those days. What if we were to tell you that the Japanese culture is still influencing modern fashion in Japan? Would you believe us?
Tokyo is not only the capital city of Japan but also the hot spot for creativity to run wild. This is especially true in the expressive language of fashion. We’ve all heard about the crazy and wild outfits that the fashion neighbourhood, Harajuku, churns out. Little did we know that there are still culture infusions in these modern-day Tokyo fashion. It’s not limited to just that, though. The everyday casual wear of the local Japanese, too, have a bit of culture in them.
If you look closely, you’ll see. But to make things easier, we’ve broken it down for you!
History of Traditional Japanese Clothing
Before we get to how culture is seen in modern Tokyo fashion, we’ll briefly look at the history of traditional Japanese clothing.
The Japanese did not begin wearing what we know now as traditional wear. In fact, back then, it wasn’t even known as that. The Japanese used to wear skins of animals they hunted back in ancient times. They turned them into simple pieces of clothing.
After Japan opened up to other countries, the Japanese took on fabric to make their clothes. It was only during the Middle Ages that they made a unique fashion of their wear. It’s believed that it was this time the “kimono” (着物) we know and love was born. Kimono is literally translated to “thing to wear” because back then it was literally a thing to wear.
Over time, the layering of the kimono became popular, especially for the nobles and royalty. Colours came into play. They could represent anything from seasons to the political class. The middle class were often seen in linen-made kimonos.
The everyday wear of the Japanese went from the kimono to other simplified forms of it like the “yukata” (浴衣). Now, what was known back then as everyday wear are now formal wear used only during special occasions like weddings.
Common Types of Traditional Japanese Clothing
There’s a term to call the traditional Japanese clothing, and that’s “wafuku” (和服). It literally translates to Japanese clothes. This is to differentiate them from “yofuku” (洋服), which refers to Western clothes.
There are many different kinds of wafuku clothing. There’s so many that the list can go on and on. Instead of listing every nitty-gritty of them down, we’ve highlighted the main ones that are more common than the rest.
As mentioned before, kimono was just “a thing to wear” back in the days. Now, it’s highly regarded and reserved for special and formal occasions including weddings and Coming of Age Day. In the past, the colours represented the political class of the wearer. In the present day, it’s based on one’s age as well as marital status.
The traditional wear of the kimono for men is much more simpler than the women. But the general form is still the same. It’s usually made from silk fabrics that are hand-sewn together. The women’s kimono can have up to 12 layers of clothing!
The yukata is also known as a summer version of the kimono. They’re made of lightweight fabrics like cotton as it’s much more breathable. Women’s yukata are often more brightly coloured while the men’s yukata are often more neutral and muted. Men’s ones are even shorter in length.
In those days, the yukata is usually worn in public baths where the wearer would use it to cover the body as well as dry themselves off. While that’s still being practiced today, the yukata can also be seen on some Japanese people during summer festivals, known as “natsu matsuri” (夏祭り).
Some onsens (温泉) and ryokans (旅館) also provide their guests with yukata. This is a great way to experience wearing traditional Japanese clothing!
This piece of traditional clothing is often seen but not really recognised. The hakama (袴) was traditionally used by samurais as part of their uniform. The pleated skirt form of the hakama protects the legs of the samurai when riding their horses.
In the present day, the hakama is used during Japanese sports like kendo (剣道), which is a traditional Japanese martial arts. They’re also worn during university graduation ceremonies and by “miko” (巫女), which are shrine maidens.
You may have seen this piece of traditional clothing sold as souvenirs at tourist attraction sites. It’s even become a trendy fashion piece! The haori (羽織) is a lightweight coat that is jacket-length. They’re usually worn over the kimono. The haori for men, like the kimono, is simpler in design and colour as compared to the haori for women.
Modern-Day Japanese Clothing
Fast forward a few centuries and we have modern-day Japan. What the Japanese wear now casually is a drastic jump from the traditional Japanese wear back then. Other than the rare occasions, you won’t see the Japanese casually wearing the kimono out for a stroll.
It’s no question that there’s been a major influence by the Western countries in Japan. Trousers were rarely seen in the past but now, regardless of gender, the Japanese take on different variations of trousers. Prints and patterns from other regions of the world can be seen on the pieces of clothing sold in Japan.
Generally, the modern-day Japanese clothing has been simplified.
The Famous “Harajuku Fashion”
On to the hot topic for Tokyo fashion, and that is the neighbourhood that pulls in the creative minds. Harajuku has been known for decades now to be the iconic neighbourhood for fashion in Tokyo. Every trend started from here. Harajuku fashion is just a big umbrella term — there are multiple subcultures in it.
But let’s not get into every single one of them. Because just like traditional Japanese clothing, the list will go on and on. What’s similar about all of them is that the looks are out of this world! You can only see them in Japan — Harajuku in Tokyo, specifically. And the best part of it all is that no one judges you on your expressive outfits. That’s what this neighbourhood is all about.
Cultural Influence in Tokyo Fashion
Regardless if it’s crazy outfits or if it’s everyday wear, modern Tokyo fashion has one thing in common. And that is all of them have cultural influences one way or another. How, you ask? It’s actually obvious if you know what to look for.
Compare the styles of traditional Japanese clothing to what the Japanese wear today. There are a few key similarities between them.
Kimono has such a huge impact in the world that it’s even used in modern fashion today. This traditional wear of Japanese culture features a distinct collar as well as the wrap around the waist. That has influenced many modern clothing designs you see on the streets. Not only that, but the prints have also influenced modern fashion as well!
There are countless ways the kimono has influenced today’s fashion. The pairing of the wrap with casual clothes seems to be the most popular option.
Layering is such an iconic trait of the Japanese traditional fashion. It’s seen in the kimono and various other traditional wear. Today, the Japanese also incorporate the form of layering into their daily wear. Even during hot summer days, you’ll see the Japanese layering their outfits. It’s just the cultural influence taking effect!
The Japanese culture is very much all about modesty, from their actions and words to clothing. As seen in the traditional Japanese clothing, it’s always fully covering the wearer. In modern Tokyo fashion, the conservative style still continues. Many Japanese are still donning baggy or non-fitting clothing to achieve the baggy silhouette. This is mainly due to the cultural influence of modesty.
Who would’ve thought that the modern fashion of Tokyo has cultural influence from back in the day? That just shows how strong the Japanese culture is. It’s able to be preserved from the ancient times and still visibly seen on the streets to this very day! If you find yourself in Tokyo one day, why not try and see if you can spot some of these cultural influences in modern fashion for yourself?