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Senseis’ Voices

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN JAPAN?

衣替え (Seasonal Change of Clothing)

The practice of koromogae, or the seasonal changing of clothing, is a Japanese custom usually conducted twice a year; around the first day of June and the first day of October. People, particularly civil servants, shop assistants and school students, change their autumn/winter uniform to their spring/summer one on June 1, and back to the former on October 1. It doesn’t involve buying new clothes, but rather moving clothes which have been stored in boxes to the wardrobe for daily use. Some households will even change articles of furniture, pictures and other utensils, such as cups and bowls, in anticipation of the coming seasons as part of koromogae, although this is becoming increasingly rare.

The actual tasks involved in koromogae include washing the clothes from the past season and storing them in boxes with moth repellent, and then removing clothes to be worn from boxes to be sorted in a wardrobe. Sometimes this might also involve cleaning the house, so it can mean a lot of work is required.

Generally, people change from thick, heavy, dark-coloured clothes for winter to thin, lighter, bright-coloured clothes for spring and summer. In traditional Japanese culture, particularly in formal settings such as tea ceremony, it is important to acknowledge the changes of seasons—in such circumstances, not only the patterns and colours of the kimono that are worn but also the utensils and furniture that are used are required to change. By changing their clothing, people notice and appreciate the change of seasons.

According to historical record, the practice of koromogae started in about the eighth century during the Heian period, where it was introduced from China to the Japanese imperial court. Around the 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate made it a regulation for the samurai class to change their clothing four times in a year, and it was during this period that ordinary people also came to follow this practice. In 1873, with the introduction of Western clothing and the Gregorian calendar in Japan, the Meiji government changed the regulation for koromogae – to occur twice a year for civil servants, in June and October. Since then, koromogae has remained a traditional custom within homes and in the workplace for uniformed workers and students.

Japan’s climate differs by season and region, ranging from minus 10 in winter to 35 degrees in summer on average, with approximately 50-80% humidity. It is therefore rational and necessary to change clothing according to the seasons. By changing clothing and objects in use, the scenery both in and outside of the home changes. The Japanese are said to enjoy each season by not only wearing different clothing but also viewing these changes around them.

However, less people are practising koromogae compared to before, saying that the practice is not necessary anymore. They cite many reasons: the climate is changing due to global warming; the use of air conditioning; the tendency for people feel heat and cold differently, making it inappropriate to set dates to change clothing; and that people are too busy to engage in the time-intensive practice of koromogae. On the other hand, many still support it because koromogae becomes an occasion to tidy up and sort out possessions, as well as being a time to contemplate and appreciate their own fashion style and tastes. By having to stop and appreciate the changing seasons, it also allows them to feel closer to nature.

By Michie Akahane, JPF Sydney
Contributed: May 2018

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