Sometime next year, expect to see colorful kimono-clad commuters winding their way through the morning rush hour in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki Station, the main hub for government workers.
Some may wonder if they are heading to some kind of ceremony, but they will actually be heading to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for work.
The government is trying to stem the decline in Japan’s traditional clothing culture, and for a start, METI is expected to declare a day during which ministry staff will be encouraged to wear the traditional garments.
“It’s like Cool Biz in which people don’t have to wear a tie, but they still can if they want to . . . we want to lead efforts to create an atmosphere for wearing kimono,” said Hirokazu Watanabe, a METI official.
While the heavily embroidered garments are often portrayed as the exclusive realm of women, there are also kimono for men, who traditionally wore them on a daily basis as well. Setting a “kimono day” would mean that nobody in the halls of Tokyo’s stifling bureaucracy would have to feel weird about dressing in them, Watanabe said.
A panel that the ministry set up in January is discussing how to revitalize Japan’s kimono culture and related industries. In a report scheduled to come out next month, it is expected to suggest that METI encourage the wearing of the silky garments during a certain day or period.
A draft of the report proposes three possibilities for declaring a kimono day: sometime in the summer, on Nov. 15, which is the same day designated by the national kimono association, at the end of the year, or on the first business day of the new year.
It also says METI should not be the only ministry to hold a kimono day and that it should collaborate on the concept with the other ministries.
Watanabe said METI probably won’t pick a day until next year, at the earliest.
Although Japanese wore kimono on a daily basis several decades ago, domestic lifestyles changed greatly as the country underwent Westernization, tipping the industry into a slow decline.
According to Yano Research Institute, annual sales of traditional Japanese clothing peaked at ¥1.8 trillion in 1982, but have since plummeted to ¥300 billion over the past three decades.
But the ministry said that potential demand exists, especially among young Japanese women who are into traditional culture and history but lack the information and opportunities to indulge.
“Some young women want to wear kimono, but some don’t know how to properly wear them and some think they are too expensive. Also, there really aren’t many occasions for wearing them,” Watanabe said.
In March, the ministry surveyed 10,541 women and 439 men over the Internet to see if they had ever worn kimono. The findings: 81.7 percent of those in their 20s said they had, and 79.9 percent of that group said they wanted to wear them again. Their level of interest was the highest among other generations.
The ministry also thinks the kimono industry can help promote tourism and encourage visitors to spend money.
According to a survey of foreign visitors conducted by the city of Kyoto in 2013, 25.6 percent of those visiting the ancient capital said that they came to experience traditional Japanese culture.
Among them, 23.2 percent, the largest portion, said they wanted to try on kimono or yukata (summer kimono).
The artistic techniques used to design kimono can also be applied to other outfits and accessories, so reviving kimono culture could lead to the creation of more “traditional” products and experiences that are likely to induce spending by tourists.