Young Women in HAKAMA Means it`s GRADUATION SEASON in Japan- But why HAKAMA and not just Kimono?
By Avi Landau
I was in the lobby of Tsukuba`s Okura Hotel. Reading the newspaper as I waited for an appointment, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, several small parties taking and posing for pictures. Lifting my eyes for a better look, I saw what were apparently parents and grandparents, all dressed up , taking pictures, of and with, kimono clad young women- with one such woman for each group.
The first thing that went through my head was that there was going to be a big wedding that day, and some of the guests were taking family pictures before the event would begin.
Then I realized something. These girls were not wearing KIMONO alone- they had on HAKAMA pants on which came right up to the bust-line.
Putting two and two together, I now understood exactly what was going on- it was the end of March, graduation season in Japan, and these young women were about to attend their own graduation ceremony at Tsukuba University.
Though the HAKAMA (袴) has been continuously worn Japan for at least 1,500 years- remains of these traditional pants have been found in ancient KOFUN tumuli, in contemporary Japan, women only wear them for very specific occasions or activities.
1) At Shinto Shrines, you will find the Shrine Maidens (MIKO) in bold vermillion HAKAMA over pure white kimonos..
2) You will find girls in navy blue, or less commonly, white HAKAMA, at DOJO (training halls) as certain types of martial arts use them as a uniform- AIKIDO, KENDO, NAGINATA-JUTSU are among the BUDOH (martial arts) whose practitioners train in HAKAMA. (If you see a few bus-loads of people in blue or white HAKAMA you can assume there is a martial arts event being held)
3) In March girls going to their graduation ceremonies can be seen in hotel lobbies, at train stations, and of course, in front of their universities.
Female teachers also commonly wear HAKAMA at graduation ceremonies- even (or especially) for kindergarten graduation!
As I watched the proud families in the hotel lobby I started to think about WHY it is now trendy for women to rent a HAKAMA for their graduations? (No, before the late 1980`s women did not wear them for such occasions.)
There IS an obvious connection, not only between HAKAMA and graduation- but also between HAKAMA and WOMEN`S EDUCATION in general.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and all the modernization and Westernization that came in its wake, there were great changes in (among many, many other aspects of life) FASHION.
While the upper-classes were quick to adopt the new modes of dress, the first commoners affected by these changes in WEAR were soldiers, policemen, railway workers and nurses who were given Euro-American-style uniforms .
While women in general were slower than men in taking to new styles of dress, female teachers and students needed a new form of wear, for the newly established GIRLS SCHOOLS. Their UNIFORMS, however, would not be so radically new or different. Over their KIMONO they would wear HAKAMA pants- easy to work and study in, and which would be especially necessary for physical education classes (HAKAMA keep your KIMONO from opening up!)
The fact that female teachers and students wore HAKAMA to school during the Meiji and Taisho periods still does not completely explain why HAKAMA are worn at graduation ceremonies today- especially since it had NOT been the custom for decades (until the late 1980`s)
After talking to dozens of women who had graduated at the time HAKAMA wearing at graduation ceremonies began to flourish, I was finally able to pin down a specific source- A comic book series which was later made into a cartoon, tv series, a movie and was even adapted for the stage. It`s called HAI KARA-SAN GA TORU （はいからさんが通る) and the original comic book first appeared in 1975. The animated TV series ran from 1978 to 1979.
The movie, starring MINAMINO YOKO was released in 1987, accompanied with the hit song (also entitled HAIKARA-SAN GA TORU) featured the main character who wore HAKAMA and boots.
It was this film and the popularity of its main characters style of dress hat led to the initial boom in graduation HAKAMA wearing.
The kimono rental shops (who rent the HAKAMAs) have been doing their best to keep the custom alive through advertising.
Read more about HAIKARA-SAN GA TORU here:
Keep in mind , however, that the world of men`s HAKAMA is very complex- and the HAORI HAKAMA (HAKAMA with a traditional jacket emblazoned with the family crest) is a standard type of traditional formal-wear.
Read more about HAKAMA in general here: