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Young men wrapped up in popularity of traditional Japanese clothing

Kokugakuin University students take a group selfie in traditional Japanese attire at the school's campus in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, on July 6, 2018. (Mainichi)

Traditional clothing tends to be associated with women in Japan, but its popularity has spread to young men in recent years with easy to wear outfits, event discounts and most importantly, trendy social media posts.

    At the men's kimono specialty shop "Fujiki-ya" in Tokyo's Ueno district since the beginning of June, there has been a line out the door of customers getting ready for the summer "yukata" season. The lighter cotton kimono is the symbol of summer festivals in Japan.

    "Our staff can't handle all of the requests, and customers have left a number of times because we couldn't serve them," says 37-year-old owner Masaru Kidera. "Most customers are in their 20s and 30s."

    Kidera was originally employed at a major apparel manufacturing company, but decided to open his own shop in 2012 out of his increasing love for traditional Japanese clothing. He says that his sales have nearly doubled from the previous year -- every year -- since. What makes his shop unique is his lineup of premade pieces starting at the low price of 7,000 yen.

    To eliminate the sometimes complicated process of tying the "obi" belt, Kidera has introduced a belt-like leather obi with a buckle, and he also offers kimono made out of fabrics that are easy to care for like denim and jersey, rising to meet the demands of his clientele.

    At the beginning of July, the Shibuya Campus of Kokugakuin University held a "Japanese clothing day" ahead of the star festival "Tanabata," where students, teachers and others could spend the day wearing yukata. With the aim of continuing the practice of Japanese traditions, the school began holding the yukata-wearing day in 2015.

    "I tied my obi while watching an online tutorial video," said a first year economics student who participated in the event clad in a yukata with vertical stripes. "It doesn't feel hot wearing this at all. This summer, I want to go to fireworks festivals and other events wearing this."

    An "obi" belt with a buckle to make it easy-to-use is seen at men's kimono specialty store "Fujiki-ya" in Tokyo's Taito Ward, on July 2, 2018. (Mainichi)

    All around campus, scenes of students taking pictures together with their smartphones unfolded. Sophia University in Tokyo's Yotsuya district and the Shonan Fujisawa Campus of Keio University in Kanagawa Prefecture also held student-organized yukata events this July.

    As to whether or not young people are taking a fresh look at traditional culture, Kidera says, "Actually, young people are considering it as a completely new fashion trend. Wearing the clothes is outside the normal everyday routine, and looks photogenic on social media."

    Older shops are also coming out with fresh market strategies to ride the new wave of popularity. Tokyo-based major kimono firm Yamato Co. opened its first men's kimono specialty shop "Y. & Sons" in the capital's Chiyoda Ward in 2015. The shop mainly sells bolts of fabric, but a piece can be made to order starting at an all-inclusive price of between 40,000 yen and 50,000 yen -- similar in price to a tailor-made business suit.

    "I thought it was time to update a traditional industry," explains Executive Director of Operations Takayuki Yajima. "The response is getting more and more positive by the year, and there are more young customers than I imagined."

    "I don't have a precise figure," says Shunsuke Matsuo, of the Kyoto-based "Kimono to Hoshoku Sha" industry marketing survey firm. "But even in Kyoto, the number of men wearing Japanese traditional clothing is definitely growing."

    (Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Evening Edition Department)

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