Happi - The Uniform of Japanese Festivals

The festivals of Japan are among the many reasons that attract hundreds and thousands of foreign travelers to the country every year. These events revolve around different themes ranging from the start of the cherry blossom season to elaborate parades.

As such, enumerating everything that tourists can expect to see at a festival can result in an incredibly long list. It is highly recommended that foreign travelers take their time to research about the various festivals of Japan to find those that are in line with their preferences or what they want to experience.

Alternatively, tourists can also choose to simply participate in any festival they may come across with during their trip. Any of Japan’s festivals are always packed with tons of fun, food, and activities that are guaranteed to leave one with a pleasant memory and a better understanding of the local culture.

By 御願塚史跡保存会代表の大田氏 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What are Japan’s Happi Jackets/Coats?

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Happi jackets or happi coats refer to the cotton vests adorned with colorful designs and emblems which are worn by active participants of the festival. These serve as team uniforms and often include the symbol of the shop, school, company, team, temple, or shrine.

According to historical records, happi coats date back to the nineteenth century when they were initially used as uniforms by firefighters and staff members of merchant shops. Since the beginning, these coats have always carried a simple design and are considered to be quite an economical uniform.

People usually wear this vest over an undershirt and pair it with either a pair of regular pants or some short shorts. Sometimes, the men choose to pair their happi coats with a fundoshi, a traditional Japanese undergarment that was typically worn by rickshaw drivers and laborers during the 19th century. Happi coats also often come with a matching headband.

Tourists who see people wearing a distinct cotton vest can assume that he/she has an official relationship with the festival. More often than not, these happi coats are reused as long as possible, unless a change of design is needed.

Places to Buy New, Vintage, and Collectible Happi Jackets/Coats

By 克年 三沢 from 山形市, 日本 (IMG_2399) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For the Japanese community, happi coats do not really serve any other purpose besides being used at festivals or at traditional shops and are pretty much a common kind of garment. For foreign travelers, however, the design of the happi coat can be quite attractive and be more than enough reason for a person to purchase his own piece.

Fortunately, there are several stores in Japan that sell happi coats for tourists to bring home as souvenirs. These shops can often be found in the old towns of Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka, or even at the massive shopping complexes of the country.

In the off case that tourists fail to come across these kinds of shops, there are several online stores that carry a wide variety of happi coats and ship internationally, as well. Some interesting sites that foreigners may want to check out for new, vintage, or collectible happi jackets include:

Japanese Style

Japanese Style dates back to the year 1997 when it was established by the Gallagher sisters, who spent their early years growing up in Okinawa. The company was created after their great love and appreciation for the Japanese culture.

As such, Japanese Style carries a wide array of authentic products from the Land of the Rising Sun, as well as other goods related to the country. At present, the online shop of Japanese Style is owned and operated by the eldest of the siblings, Anita Gallagher.

Japanese Style carries various happi coats that come in royal blue and white colors, some of which feature embroidered, printed, or gold designs. Their more expensive ones, which start at 49.95 USD, make use of lovely Japanese patterns and details.

The most expensive happi coat offered by Japanese Style is priced at 119.95 USD which features metallic gold dragons and tigers against a black background.

Website: https://www.japanesestyle.com/

Contact: info@japanesestyle.com

Rakuten Global Market

Rakuten Global Market is one of the most popular online stores that provide different areas of the world with an extensive collection of Japanese goods including sports items, shoes, bags, accessories, men and women’s clothing, watches, jewelry, food, toys, electronics, and even car accessories.

The online shop started back in 1997 and initially only had thirteen merchants, one server, and six employees. Today, it stands among the biggest online shops, with several businesses based in more than twenty countries.

Their best-selling happi, which is priced at around 1,550 yen, comes in a faded royal blue cotton material and features a red emblem on the back, alongside a white cube pattern. This happi coat greatly resembles those that are usually worn by members of the Japanese community at festivals.

Rakuten Global Market also carries many other festive designs of the happi coat including a red and blue dragon dancing in heaven, cherry blossoms, and waves in heaven.

Website: https://global.rakuten.com/

Contact: +81-50-5581-6910

Goods From Japan

Goods From Japan is one of the best online stores that offer shoppers with lovely Japanese products ideal for giving as gifts or souvenirs. The products carried by the company come from Japan and the Far East.

Their inventory includes ornaments, Shin-Fuji kendamas, hand-made accessories by Japanese artists, byobu folding screens, kitchenware, Japanese-English dictionaries, toys, paintings, shoes, kewpie dolls, and traditional Japanese clothing.

Goods From Japan is based right in Japan, having offices at Nagoya, Kyoto, and Tokyo, but also has a headquarters in the United Kingdom.

The happi coats carried by Goods From Japan are all lightweight and are priced starting at 49.49 USD. Most of their variations come in blue and red base colors, while their more expensive happi coats feature intricate details. The most expensive happi coat offered by Goods From Japan is priced at 199.99 USD.

Website: https://www.goodsfromjapan.com/


Chopa, which is a Tibetan term used to refer to offerings, dates back to the year 1994 when it was founded in response to the desire of people to incorporate Zen elements into their homes.

A lot of the products carried by the company are related to Zen Buddhist teachings and are useful in creating a space ideal for meditation and peace, without making the room look too busy. Chopa believes in keeping everything minimal and simple, as taught in Zen Buddhism.

The products carried by Chopa can be categorized to fall under kimonos & yukatas, tatami mats, gongs & chimes, garden & statues, calligraphy supplies, meditation, shoji screens, mala, jewelry, and incense.

Chopa’s happi coats are available from 39 USD to 69 USD.  A lot of these jackets come in the color black and feature simple, minimalist designs including subtle wave patterns, cherry blossoms, or flowers.

Website: https://www.chopa.com/

Contact: 1-850-215-0019

Taiko Center Co., Ltd.

Taiko Center Co., Ltd., or Taiko Center of Kyoto, specializes in taiko drums and other related goods. Their brick and mortar shops can be found in Aoyama Tokyo, Asakusa Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto. These shops also offer various taiko classes throughout the year.

Their online shop redirects international shoppers to Amazon or Rakuten Global Market, while domestic shoppers are redirected to the Onikko Shop, Rakuten, Yahoo Shopping, or Amazon Japan.

The happi coats of the Taiko Center come in a wide array of designs and colors, the most common ones being the umbrella pattern, the wave pattern, noshime, yoshiwara tsunagi, and tomoe.

Website: http://www.taiko-center.co.jp/

Contact: (+81) 75-813-8615

Jun Japanese Gifts

Jun Japanese Gifts is a one-stop online shop for the best Japanese and Oriental souvenirs and gifts. Some wonderful household items carried by the company include wind chimes, folding fans, furoshiki cloths, umbrella ornaments, lantern ornaments, clocks, and noren curtains.

For those looking for apparel gifts, Jun Japanese Gifts carries a wide array of T-shirts, geta sandals, kimonos, yukatas, headbands, and handkerchiefs. Other interesting products offered by Jun Japanese Gifts include daruma dolls, kokeshi dolls, chirimen bears, stationery, tableware, washi paper, cellphone accessories, hanko stamps, and calligraphy tools.

Some of the happi designs available at the online shop include dragon, cherry blossoms, noshi, wave, tsuru kame, and komainu patterns. Their happi jackets range from 80 to 160 USD and come complete with matching belts.

Website: http://www.jun-gifts.com/

Contact: +81-492-39-3055

How to Create a Happi Jacket/Coat Pattern

By Sabunero [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Alternatively, foreigners can also choose to make their own happi jacket or coat for a more personal design and a better fit. Happi coats are typically quite loose and feature sleeves that hang several inches below the elbow, usually up to the middle of the forearm.

These garments also do not have any zippers or buttons and are only secured to one’s body by the use an obi, a type of Japanese belt. As such, the process of making a happi coat is relatively easy and only requires a person to know how to use a sewing machine, or at least sew by hand.

A happi coat only consists of three sections – the collar, the body, and the sleeves – and can be done in a few hours through the step-by-step guide below:

  1. Cut out a 70 cm by 160 cm piece of cloth for the torso piece of the happi coat.

  2. At one end of the 160-centimeter side of the torso piece, cut out a 15 cm by 75 cm rectangle to create a U-shaped piece of cloth.

  3. Cut out 0.5 to 1 cm slits on each corner of the inner U.

  4. Cut out two 40 cm by 60 cm pieces of cloth for the sleeves of the happi coat.

  5. Cut out a 24 cm by 180 cm piece of cloth for the collar piece of the happi coat.

  6. Fold in the long sides of the collar piece towards the center.

  7. Fold the collar piece of the happi coat in half, lengthwise.

  8. Fold in the long sides of the sleeves twice, with each fold measuring 4 cm wide.

  9. Fold the sleeves in half, crosswise.

  10. Position the sleeve piece in such a way that the folded section is located on the opposite end, i.e. the piece opens up facing the creator.

  11. From the lower left corner of the sleeve piece, cut out a diagonal piece towards the right side, 2 centimeters from the base.

  12. Repeat steps 10 and 11 for the other sleeve piece.

  13. Take one sleeve piece, open it up, and place it on top of one side of the torso piece, making sure that the wider side of the sleeve is in line with the outer side of the torso piece.

  14. Sew the sleeve and the torso together at the outer sides, leaving 2 to 3 centimeters left open at either end. Make sure to start stitching the pieces a centimeter away from the edges.

  15. Fold the sleeve piece in half and sew the two sides together, making sure to start the stitch one centimeter from the edges.

  16. To give weight to the sleeves, fold the open end twice, similar to the initial fold done for the sleeve piece. Sew these folds in place.

  17. Repeat steps 13 to 16 for the other sleeve piece.

  18. After sewing both sleeves onto the torso piece, flip the happi coat inside out, making sure to leave the sleeves inside the now overturned coat.

  19. Find the small hole around the armpit section and sew it closed. Repeat this for the other side.

  20. Sew the open sides of the torso piece together, starting from the armpit going down towards the bottom end of the happi coat, making sure that the piece is inside out all throughout the process.

  21. Similar to step 16, add weight to the torso piece by folding its bottom edge back three times. Sew these folds in place.

  22. Fold in the long ends of the collar piece towards the center.

  23. Fold in the long ends of the folded collar piece towards the center.

  24. Iron the entire folded collar piece to keep the creases in place.

  25. Take the rim piece of the collar piece and sandwich it in between 1 to 2 centimeters of the torso piece’s inner edge. Sew everything together.

  26. Fold the remaining rim material located at the bottom of the happi coat over the edge and sew it in place.