1st of June . A new month begins . It also marks the beginning of a new season. It is officially summer now. The hot and humid Japanese summer (Natsu) is definitely not the most pleasant season. After the pleasant spring, Japan experiences a short rainy season (Tsuyu) between May and June, after which summer begins.
In Japan, where so much thought is given even to minute details, it is but natural that a lot of thought goes even for changes in season. On 1st of June and 1st of October, the country follows a custom known as “KOROMOGAE”. It means seasonal changes of clothes to suit the season. The change is visible mostly in school clothes and work clothes. Clothes worn during the cooler months are cleaned and packed to be stored away till they are ready to appear on 1st of October. Similarly on 1st October, lighter clothes worn during the warm months are cleaned, packed and stored for the season.
I had almost forgotten about this Japanese custom till this morning when I noticed that school children wore a different uniform- the summer uniform. Fortunately for me, my daughter’s school doesn’t have a school uniform (“Seifuku”) . Schools in Japan have two sets of uniforms- Summer uniform (Natsu-fuku) and Winter Uniform (Fuyu- fuku). Summer uniform is worn from 1st June to 30th September whereas Winter uniform is worn from 1st October to 31st May. Some schools may have different dates but most schools stick to these dates, probably to avoid confusion.
Office goers are now more likely to be seen wearing short sleeved shirts and without neck ties. In the city I live in, I find most people even sporting Hawaiian print shirts ! Pretty early in the season, but a welcome change . Summer is also time when people start wearing cotton kimonos known as “Yukata” which are more suited for the heat and humidity. Even the fancy kimonos worn in summer are non layered and without lining.
Like many other Japanese customs, Koromogae also has its origin in the Heain Period. There were guidelines on summer clothing and winter clothing to be worn in the court. In those days the custom was however known as “Koui”. At that time, the change was not restricted to only clothing but was also followed for other articles like accessories. For instance, during summer, women held fans made of Japanese paper while in winter the fans were made of Japanese cypress wood.
An interesting thing I noticed on one of my walks around town yesterday was that most vending machines now barely have any hot drinks. Most of the vending machines have been changed to stock cold beverages with the occasional hot Green tea or coffee. Japan does take it’s seasons seriously !