This Question Came to My Inbox: “How can you tell Chinese or Korean traditional clothing from Japanese, or visa versa?”

Every country has its traditional clothing, even European countries. However, in Europe and America, we are interested in the clothing in the orient because it is different from ours. The Chinese, the Japanese, and the Koreans all have very different clothing. I could even tell you what traditional Vietnamese clothing looks like because I once had a Vietnamese room mate in college. I will discuss them one at a time, and you will see the difference when I am done.

The yellow part is a hanfu, but the sleeves are not as big as they are on a kimono. the red part with the high color is the very Chinese look I was talking about. My daughter’s dresses are like the red part, and they have short sleeves. The read and gold are traditional colors of royalty. Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

As for the Chinese, I bought my daughter two traditional Chinese dresses when I was in China Town in S. Korea. They are straight dresses with short sleeves, a high collar, and the sort of look like they overlap in the front. They have slits up both sides of the dresses. My Vietnamese room mate’s clothes looked like that only the slits were up to her waste, and she wore big baggy pants under it using it as a long tunic. As far as I know, the Chinese men also wear a tunic with a high collar around their necks that usually separated in the front, baggy pants, and a tie type belt. Besides the straight dress with a high collar that kind of looks wrapped across the top, the Chinese also have a dress called “hanfu.” The students who studied Chinese at the university where I taught in Korea used to wear them for shows. The hanful is long like the Japanese kimono, but it is not just one piece. It is a tunic type top and a long skirt. The tunic type top is made like a Japanese kimono. It wraps around like a jacket and then they have a belt to keep it closed, a piece of long thin cloth. The sleeves are unusual like the sleeves on the Japanese kimono which I will describe when I talk about the kimono in the next paragraph. If you have seen them, the Chinese also have traditional shoes. They are usually flat, slip on shoes made of cloth. Some of them have strings that tie around your ankle.

This Japanese lady is wearing a kimono with an obi.Photo by istlife on Pexels.com

As for the Japanese, everyone has heard of a kimono, The word “kimono” simple means “wearing thing.” A man or a woman either one could wear a kimono, but usually, I have only seen Japanese men in yukatas, the summer kimono, or they have this kind of black suit trimmed in white with really big huge pants. The kimono and the yukata are made the same. The only difference is that the kimono is made out of fancier material, and the yukata is made from cotton. They are like robes that open in the front and have very unusually wide sleeves. If you hold your arm up to shoulder height with a kimono or a yukata on, the sleeve will reach to your waste or past. They used to carry things in their sleeves. The kimono usually has very specific underwear and a very wide belt called an obi. The Obi is wrapped around the body several times and then tied in the back. There are different kinds of ties for the obi, and it takes practice to learn how to tie them. they usually tie one another’s obis. The kimonos are usually too long for them, so they pull them up so they don’t hit the ground and double them at the waste under the obi. If a western woman wears a kimono, they often wrap a towel around her waste before putting a kimono or yukata on her because you are supposed to look completely flat from chest, to waste, to hips. The kimonos are not created to show your figure at all, and if they do, you are wearing it wrong. If men wear the yukata, the summer kimono, they usually wear it at home like a robe or to do Kabuki, Noe, or Bunkraku, traditional Japanese theater. The yukata doesn’t necessisarily take the obi at this time, but just a thin a piece of cloth type belt.

This is a picture of the traditional clothing the Japanese men wear to weddings. It is like a suit. The bottom part of this one has black and white stripped very wide legged pants, but sometimes the pants are all black, but the legs are still very wide and long. They have to be careful not to step on the pants because the drag. The shirt is similar to a short kimono and wraps around the body, and the jacket is also similar to a short kimono. As you can see, the men in the Orient don’t mind carrying fans. It is called a honten.

Beside the yukata and the kimono, the Japanese also have the keigogi. People outside of Japan are usually taught to call it a “gi.” The keigogi is like a pair of pijamas. Some have long pants and some short pants. The come in lots of different colors. The Japanese wear them to do martial arts. The shirt part is like a short kimono with a belt tied around it.

These ladies are wearing Japanese kimonos and zori. As you can see, they have socks that are made especially for wearing with traditional shoes that part between the big toe and the second toe. Photo by CHLOE HUISS on Pexels.com

The traditional Japanese shoes are either geta or zori. The geta are wooden shoes up on a platform that are like flip flops on top. Some geta are plain white wood while others are black lacquered. The part on top is made from velvet. The zori are the regular sandals usually covered with satin that have a heal and are also made like flip flops on top.

This girl is wearing a hanbok with a hot pink dress and a regular pink jacket. You can see how the jacket overlaps in the front and there is a purple decoration that will end in a tie that will be in a beautiful bow tied on the front of her jacket. Her head dress is a traditional Korean head dress too. She is standing in a hanbok shop, and you can see from the background that they Koreans love multi colored sleeves on their jackets and lots of bright colors on their hanboks. Photo by @thiszun (follow me on IG, FB) on Pexels.com

The Koreans wear the hanbok. There are distinct hanboks worn by men and others by women. “Hanbok” literally means “Korean suit.” The men’s hanbok is a tunic top and matching pants. The top is like a jacket and wraps around like a kimono. the pants are puffed pants like something an Arab would wear and only come to the middle of their calves. The women’s hanboks are beautiful! The are long dresses gathered just above the waste. They are a sleeveless dress with a jacket over them. Each jacket has a long ribbon like sash on the front to tie to keep the jacket closed. The skirts on the hanboks are huge and comfortable to wear. There is specific underwear you must wear under them too. The Koreans actually give you bloomers to wear under the hanbok like the Arab women wear under their clothing and the women in the early years of America used to wear. There are also traditional Korean shoes the women wear. They are white and have been embroidered. There are two styles. One is a slip on shoe with a toe that points up like from old Arabia, and the men may wear shoes like this too. The other kind of shoes are like slip on sandals, but they are also white with flowers embroideried on them. The men in Korea have a traditional hat that is very interesting. It is black and has a really wide brim. The older hats were mae from horses’ hair, but they aren’t anymore. The Koreans also have another interesting hat for the men that looks like a tall black fez with wings on the back. They usually call it “the scholar’s hat.”

This is one of the guards for Geongkbuk Palace in Seoul, S. Korea in Gangwamoon close to the American embassy. The guards are really decked out in bright colors. He is wearing one of those black hats with a brim, but there are other styles of black hats with brims that are a bit more traditional than he has. Sometimes, the part at the top is even too small to fit on their head, but just sits there, and they are tied under the chin. The men like to wear lots of fancy things to keep their hats on their heads, sometimes even long strings of beads. This is very different from Japan. The Japanese men like to dress in back and look very somber and the Japanese traditional clothing for men is black, and sometimes black and white. . Photo by Vladislav Vasnetsov on Pexels.com

As you can see, some of the countries overlap a bit, but not so much that you couldn’t tell them apart. The traditional color for brides in Korea and China is red. The traditional color for Japanese brides may be red or white. Everyone is adopting the white wedding dress from the west, but they still like to dress in their traditional clothing at the weddings. That is when the men in Japan are much more likely to dress in that unusual suit. The Korean men may also dress in something more akin to a kimono at their wedding. The women’s Korean headdresses can be something else! When my daughter got married in Korea, they gave her a head dress the queens and princesses used to wear, and it was so heavy she could hardly keep it on her head. In Japan, the brides change clothes several times during the time of the wedding. They usually begin with a kimono at the Shinto shrine, but when you get inside where there is a banquet and Japanese dancers, the bride will be wearing a white western wedding dress. In Korea, the brides wear a white western wedding dress to walk down the aisle, but after the wedding, the bride and groom go to a smaller room and are decked out like old time royalty to have their pictures taken and go through Korean ceremonies. After that, the groom puts on the suit with the puffy pants and the tunic top, and the bride puts on a red hanbok that usually had a yellow jacket. Gold or yellow and red are also the colors of royalty in Korea. In Japan, the young women at the wedding wear very pale or bright colors like peach and pink. The older women wear black, deep purple, or navy blue kimonos to the weddings. In Korea, the older women also wear hanboks with the darker colors while the younger women wear brighter colors. There are not peach hanboks, but there might be a hot pink hanbok. The Koreans are into brighter colors than the Japanese.

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