Hakama, the Traditional Japanese Trousers

Each country has its own form of traditional clothing. Individually, one can see how different and unique these outfits are, especially when you compare them to other nations. One wears traditional clothing not only to represent one’s country but to respect and pay homage to its history. Even today, people still wear their country’s respective traditional clothing if occasion need be. An example of apparel like this is the “hakama”, which hails from Japan.

The Definition of Hakama

A “hakama” is a traditional, formal Japanese apparel. There normally are two main versions of this, but both are akin to skirt-like pants, with one of them having a division. Think of them as longer, flowy trousers. It is notably wide-legged and has several pleats.

Hakama: Comes in Both Pants and a Skirt

There are two distinct kinds of hakama. One is the “andon” hakama, which is almost the same as a wide skirt. This is the version a woman would wear. The other is the “umanori” hakama, which are very much akin to wide trousers. This is the version men wear.

Having a division in the middle, the umanori hakama is also called the “horse-riding Hakama” because it permits you to spread your legs and ride the horse without your legs chafing.

It’s also important to note that there are different varieties of umanori hakama, which is worn by different people for different purposes. One example of this variety is a “mountain” or “field” type of umanori hakama. Farmhands traditionally wore this version, which had a skinnier tapering around the leg area, and a freer grip on the waist.

The undivided andon hakama, sometimes called the “lantern hakama”, is named as such because of its puffy, lantern-shaped droop around the legs. The andon hakama and unamori hakama are similar in the sense that both Hakamas are tied to the waist, and the outfit drops down all the way near the ankles.

History of the Hakama

The Chinese imperial courts of the Sui and Tang Dynasty all wore the Hakama. The Japanese adopted this traditional way of dressing from the Chinese. All the way back to the 5th century is how far the existence of the Hakama can be traced.

Clay figures wearing outfits very like them were found by archaeologists, with the age of these artifacts dating to the years possibly between 250 and 538 AD. It was even mentioned in the Kojiki, which is Japan’s “Records of Ancient Matters”.

The hakama is included in the “keikogi” outfit which is worn by those practicing in Aikido, Kendo, Kyudo, and Iado; basically, some fields of Japanese martial arts. Only in the 12th century was this outfit properly documented, when samurai warriors or “bushi” who were training in Aikido (and by default, wearing them) took on powerful roles governing the land. After the 14th century, the hakama started to be worn singularly by men.

By the time the Edo period dawned – which was from 1603 to 1868 – samurais had a standard outfit that comprised of a hakama, formal kimono, and a sharply shoulder-padded kataginu. This uniform combination was called “kamishimo”.

The hakama was chosen by the samurais as the attire to wear when they rode their horses because it protected their legs. They were made to wear special versions of it when appearing before the Shogun, and these versions had long extensions in the back and front, making it hard for any rebel samurai to execute the shogun.

Also read: Miyamoto Musashi: The Undefeated Swordmaster and Wandering Philosopher

The Meiji Period, Onwards

Because the government unified to rule the entire country during the Meiji era (1868-1912), daimyo (feudal warlords) and the samurai lost their power.

The hakama was turned into a school uniform. This revolutionized the usage of the hakama because education became open to both sexes (whereas education during the earlier parts of history was given exclusively to men). That meant women would begin wearing hakama again, as well.

This fad would continue until the Taisho era, which lasted from 1912 to 1926. Women found it was more comfortable to go about their school activities in the hakama compared to the kimono, and they began to see it as a fashion symbol of empowerment and women’s rights.
Hakama in Current Fashion

Currently, the hakama is worn by Japanese men to special events like weddings, grandiose celebrations, and funerals. University professors, as well as Shinto priests usually do it. Women also wear it, however less often. Shinto shrine attendants who are women (the Japanese refer to them as “miko”) take on the uniform of a white top or kimono tucked into a red hakama.

Both sexes commonly use hakama in school graduations, or when they participate in any academic ceremony. Women wear the Hakama just below the bust line, whereas the men tie it around the waist.

A Recycled Trend: Hakama Shorts

During the middle of the 1600’s (the Sengoku period) the Hakama was stylized into different variants. This was done so with the inspiration from globalization, specifically that of European fashion (pants that swelled and tapered off to the bottom).

Because the Portuguese would often trade with the Japanese, tailors would mimic the clothes the Portuguese were wearing, giving it a Japanese twist. Thus, the “karusan-bakama” was born. “Karusan” is the katakana word for the Spanish word “calzon”, which is Spanish for breeches.

Now, the fashion industry has now released modern Hakama shorts that are voluminous, much like the authentic hakama. You could compare it to a copy of the original Kikko Kobakama, (short pants with kikko armor) but without the armor.

The Pattern to Follow When Making a Hakama

A hakama is a very complex piece of clothing to make, as it has many pleats and parts to be sewn on it. For those who really want to learn how to make one themselves, you may look for a guide online (there are instruction leaflets and videos available) on how to take the correct length and width measurement, as well as cut and sew the right fabrics together. All those variables are largely determined by what kind of Hakama you want to make, so research more about that first.

In the basic hakama pattern, you’ll find two main front pieces and two main back pieces, (supposedly the “himo”) among many others. which have an indentation to make space for the sides of the pelvis.

There are two pieces of each because they make the front leg cut and the back leg cut combined. It is wrapped around with a waistband (also known as “obi”) that’s long enough to go around twice.

You may also print out this pattern and let your seamstress or tailor see it. If they understand it or are already aware of how to make a Hakama, then you don’t have to trouble yourself with the effort of sowing your own pair. You might want to have a kimono to go with it to have a top to go with your outfit.

The Meaning Behind the Pleats in a Hakama

A hakama comes with seven pleats. Five pleats are in the front part of the trousers, and two pleats are located at the back. Each pleat has a name and a meaning, and represent ideal characteristics that a samurai is supposed to have.

The first pleat, Yuki, is represented by courage, valor, and bravery. Jin, the second pleat, stands for kindness towards your fellow man, charity, and benevolence. Gi, the third pleat, symbolizes justice, honor, righteousness, and integrity. Rei, the fourth pleat, is there for etiquette, courtesy, and politeness. Makoto, the fifth pleat, represents sincerity, honesty, and reality.

As for the pleats in the back, Chugi, the sixth pleat, symbolizes loyalty, fidelity, and devotion. The last and seventh pleat, Meiyo, is of honor, dignity, prestige, reputation, and glory.

The Different Kinds of Hakama

The hakama designs, for men, mostly, vary a lot. Each period has its own special styles. To name some, there were Yoroi hakama, which were armored and made just for warriors who were going to battle.

As for the Nara period, there’s the ooguchi-hakama, which are bright red and have a covered crotch. The knot appears on the left of the wearer. Then the uenobakama, also from the Nara period, contrasts the ooguchi-hakama, as it is colored white, and its crotch section is uncovered. The knot of the ooguchi-hakama is found on the right side. These are formal wear, worn in court to go with a “sokutai”.

The previously discussed karusan-bakama is also another kind of hakama. Next is the sashinuki okama from the Heian period, which is a longer form of hakama that looks like it has an extra exaggerated ballooning effect on the legs. It ends right before the foot area, with cords flowing down the pant line, wrapping around the ankle.

While most hakama have four panels, this one has six panels. Court nobles were the ones who wore this type of hakama.

The Gi of Aikido: A Hakama

As previously mentioned, the keikogi of martial arts practitioners usually includes a hakama as their bottom wear.

When you look at the etymology of keikogi, “Keiko” stands for practice, while “gi” means clothes. Pair that together, and you have “practice clothes”, which is what those who are training for aikido see hakama.

Even present-day Aikido or other martial arts enthusiasts (under Kendo, Kyudo, etcetera) continue to respect, treasure and wear this attire – if they are of rank to do so.

Pairing a Hakama with a Kimono

A hakama is also often worn over a kimono, producing an outfit that would be referred to as “hakamashita”. For men, the kimonos that they pair with hakama are usually black, for formal occasions. This certain kind of kimono is called a “montsuki” kimono.

Just as there are many kinds of hakama, there are also many kinds of kimono. You can’t just wear any kind of kimono with a hakama. The yukata kimono is a big no-no to be paired with a hakama, as it is too casual.

A yukata kimono is generally made of light fabrics (synthetic fabric, cotton) and sometimes sport very bright and colorful designs. This kind of kimono is only supposed to be used for lounging, sleeping, or special summer outings.

The right kimono to pair with hakama are usually serious and dark colors, such as navy blue, dark gray or black. Another example of an outfit that pairs the hakama with a kimono is the previously discussed kamishimo, which included the extra garment that is the kataginu. The kamishimo was exclusive to the Edo period, worn only by courtiers and bushi/samurai.

Pairing A Hakama with a Haori

Because Japan has all four seasons, it’s no surprise that their traditional clothing gives the option to bear through the winter. It’s been discussed that a hakama is what one wears as a bottom, while a kimono is worn as a top, but what is used as a coat to keep you warm? The answer is an “haori”.

A haori was what was used by Japanese warriors in the olden times to keep from freezing. Now, it’s used as a fashion statement during cold months like January to March, almost like a jacket to match with the traditional ensemble.

Finding A Tutorial On How To Wear A Hakama

If you already own a hakama and have a hard time figuring out how to place one, it’s best you watch a video tutorial on how to wear it. Don’t worry about not understanding it from the get-go; just as it’s a little complicated to sew a hakama, wearing it is also a more complex process compared to fitting a pair of jeans.

When putting it on yourself, note that you’re supposed to have pants under the hakama. There are many examples on YouTube that may help you out, as there are many ways that one can put on a hakama, with the procedure of tying the bow being crucial in terms of interpretation.

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Arif Abdurahman
Arif Abdurahman

Blogging since 2009, a cold-blooded otaku who love mecha and mahou shoujo. Sharing his opinions and shit posting on pop culture is his true passion, like explaining the watch order of Gundam, Fate series or Monogatari anime by heart.

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