Seasonal Calendar of June

In this 'Seasonal Calendar', I would like to introduce traditional Japanese seasonal events, which come down to Japanese's modern life for the time being.

This Season's Traditional Events

In June, there are no special days to hold traditional events or ceremonies, and there are no holidays in this month either. So this month, I would like to introduce 'Koromo-gae', a custom that comes down to today since the old days.

What is 'Koromo-gae'?

The word 'Koromo-gae' seems to be heard often in June and October. Around this time of year, the word is even brought up in TV news programs, as "tomorrow is a 'Koromo-gae' day".

'Koromo-gae' is a custom to change the kind of clothes you wear, or change the place where you store them, according to the season. In schools and companies where they have uniforms, it is usual to have two types of uniforms 'Natsu-fuku ( summer uniforms )' and 'Fuyu-fuku ( winter uniforms )' that are worn respectively, from June 1st to September 30th, and from October 1st to May 31, with the 'Koromo-gae' day on June 1st and October 1st, generally forming the boundary. In many cases, it is common to have transitional periods for this clothes changing event.

In Japan, May to June is a time of year when the season changes from spring to summer, with the rise in temperature along with the increase in humidity. Heavy sweaters and long sleeved shirts worn during winter becomes unnecessary, and short sleeved shirts and thin clothes come into heavy rotation instead. This must have been wisdom learned from nature, to live more comfortably in this country where four seasons are very distinct.

The short sleeved thin clothes that were stored away in boxes during winter, would be pulled out once again and be put in closets or drawers, so that it would be easier to take them out whenever you want to wear them, while winter clothes such as heavy coats, sweaters, and all those outfits for cold weather, would be put away in storage boxes together with mothballs, after they've been washed cleanly and dried off completely, in turn with the summer clothes.

The Derivation of 'Koromo-gae'

It is said that the beginning of the 'Koromo-gae' custom, leads us back to the Heian Period which lasted from 794 to 1185. At court in those days, 'Natsu-shouzoku ( summer clothes )' and 'Fuyu-Shouzoku ( winter clothes )' were already determined, and following in the steps of China, these clothes were to be changed twice a year, on April 1st and October 1st ( lunar calendar ). It is told that this clothes changing event, used to be called 'Koui' in those days.

'Koui' seems to have taken root as an annual event at court, by the middle of the Heian Period. The custom of 'Koui' in those days did not end by just changing clothes, but also influenced 'Nyoubous ( ladies in those days )' by making them change small articles, like the fans they held in their hands.

The ladies were supposed to hold fans called 'Hi-ougi' made of Japanese cypress during winter, while in summer they held fans called 'Kawa-hori' made of paper and bamboo. This tendency kept growing stronger until finally, people in those days were even made to change their furnishing goods according to this custom, by the beginning of the Kamakura Period, which started after 1185.

In the Edo Period ( from 1603 to 1868 ), the 'Koui' rules for Samurai warriors's uniforms were more finically defined, changing their clothes as much as four times a year. Lined Kimonos called 'Awase', were to be worn from April 1st to May 4th and from September 1st to September 8th, while the summer season from May 5th till the end of August had to be spent in 'Kata-bira' thin unlined hemp Kimonos, and the winter season from September 9th to the end of March, were supposed to be spent in 'Wata-ire', Kimonos with cotton stuffed between garment and lining.

Since the Samurai warriors's outfit was minutely defined, and having them too grand in the Edo Period, the populace at large also came to follow this custom. However, it is told that because the custom of 'Koui', the way it was called, happened to be the same as the job title of court ladies whose jobs were to change the Emperror's clothings, people in general came to call the custom 'Koromo-gae' instead of 'Koui'.

When it comes into the Meiji Period ( from 1868 to 1912 ), uniforms were defined for people who work in banks or government and other public offices ( people who are so called today as national public employee ), which came in two different styles, the summer uniforms and the winter uniforms.

When the solar calendar had been put to use, the date of 'Koromo-gae' based on the lunar calendar April 1st and October 1st, were passed on to the solar calendar and became June 1st and October 1st. It is thought that Japanese then came to regard these days as 'Koromo-gae' day, which later spread out to school uniforms and established among people in general.

In modern Japanese life, the custom of 'Koromo-gae' is not recognized as minutely as they used to be, but in companies and schools where they have uniforms, the custom is still practiced in many of them.

As for people who wear Kimonos ( Japanese's traditional clothes ), they still fold this tradition in high esteem. It is said to be standard operating procedure, to wear non-layered Kimonos without lining called 'Hitoe' from June to September, while the left months from October to May should be spent in 'Awase', lined Kimonos.

Practicing 'Koromo-gae'

The 'Koromo-gae' day is usually accepted as the first day of June and October in Japan, but that doesn't mean that you have to change your clothes, or that you have to replace the clothes inside your storage boxes on this exact day. Actually, it is said to be all right to pull out your summer clothes, without concerning too much of the date. So it may be good not to get hung up on the date, and take your summer clothes out when you feel it's getting too hot to wear long sleeves.

However, storing your winter clothes away is said better to be done, when the weather stays clear for a couple of days. This goes for the 'Koromo-gae' in autum too, for a sucession of fine weather could lower the indoor humidity.

When storing unnecessary clothes, it is important to store them after you've cleaned them. This is because most contamination comes from sebum and perspiration, and if you left your clothes in such contamination, it would later turn into spots and stains. Especially, these grease buildup of sebum and perspiration, when left in high temperature and humidity, get oxidized and turn into sallowness which can't be cleaned off even if it's sent out to the dry cleaner.

The risk of getting moth holes on your clothes, is also said to be high under hot and humid conditions. In order to protect your clothes from vermiculation, mold or sallowness, it seems to be important to store your clothes in an airy place, after they've been cleaned properly and dried off completely.

In cases when you've sent them out to the dry cleaner, and if they came back with thin plastic covers on them, it would be better to take off the covers and let it stay to dry completely before storing them away. ( Because airtight plastic covers could cause fairly high heat and humidity. ) And when storing your clothes in storage boxes, it's also a point well taken not to stuff too much clothes inside the box, so that the box is not filled up to the top, and there's some empty space left inside the storage box.

The 'Koromo-gae' tradition today seem to be rather conventional, with some Japanese not practicing 'Koromo-gae' at all, because it's troublesome. But I think it could be said that 'Koromo-gae' is an important event, in a sense that the custom could make you feel the changing of seasons closer ( well, Japanese tend to be season-conscious ), or give you a chance to prepare your body and mind, for the full-fledged summer heat or winter coldness.

Perhaps we should find many tips to live comfortably in Japan, hidden in such traditional customs that come down to today, the tips which we we had forgotten in our busy modern life. To live more pleasantly in Japan, and to keep your favorite clothes in good condition, how about making 'Koromo-gae' your annual event?

Last Modified Jun.1st, 2006