Sunday 24 September 2017

Kimono vs Yukata: Tea Ceremony at the School Festival

Reception tent and assorted culture festival posters
Culture Festival (bunka-sai) reception with class posters
Autumn is a busy time at Japanese schools with two major events to prepare: the culture festival (bunka-sai =文化祭) and sports day (undō-kai =運動会) - though in recent years, many schools have been moving the latter to spring due to lingering high temperatures and typhoons. This weekend I attended the former - bunka-sai - at a local school which was full of the usual food stalls, performances, attractions, presentations, English debates, displays, and club activities one finds at such festivals. A new event this time round though was tea ceremony (sadō = 茶道) which, like at many schools, is now an elective subject for third-year high-school students (judo has also become part of P.E. classes). The emphasis on learning "traditional culture" reflects the reform of the Fundamental Law of Education (Kyōiku Kihon Hō=教育基本法) in 2006 which for the first time introduced "fostering the value of respect for tradition and culture and love of the country" as an objective of education (English here; Japanese here).

At the culture festival, students made and served tea to guests while the teacher gave an explanation of the finer points of manners and etiquette. The students - both male and female - were traditionally dressed in yukata (浴衣) - pictured left and right. The yukata is a light cotton "kimono" a common sight at the many summer firework displays. The first kanji means to take a bath(abiru =浴びる) which reflects the fact that it is also used as a bathrobe (hotels with hot springs will usually supply a simple yukata for guests).

A common question relates to the difference between a yukata and a kimono (着物) proper (here I focus on the female versions). Apart from the material (typically light cotton vs heavier silk), a key difference is that the hanging "wing" sleeves are longer in a kimono, at least for single women (the sode or sleeves of married women are shorter, similar to the yukata). Another difference, is the time it takes to put on: whereas a yukata can be put on in 10 minutes or so, a kimono is complex and without taking classes - or at least a little help - is pretty much impossible to put on by yourself. An inner layer or layers of underclothing is also worn with a kimono. Finally, the belt or sash (obi =帯) is tied differently: the yukata obi is a simple bow which is tied at the front first (or sometimes comes pre-tied) and then slid around (video here); in contrast, the kimono obi is much broader and longer (and tighter!) and there are various ways of tying it (see one example here). Below are some pictures of the students serving tea at the festival, though the snaps don't do justice to the grace, refinement - and nervousness - of the student participants!
Four pictures from left to right showing scenes from the tea ceremony at a school festival
A male student prepares the tea as female students carry more in for guests. Note the cast iron kettle (tetsubin)