What is Jinbei Clothing? 20 Things You Need to Know
Jinbei are light summer garments traditional to Japan. Though their history stretches centuries back to the Edo period, they remain very popular, worn as loungewear, pajamas, in ryokan inns, or for special occasions when its hot outside. Here are 20 things you need to know about jinbei.
1. What are Jinbei?
Jinbei are pajama-like clothes that Japanese people wear during the summer – you’ll often see locals sporting them at festivals, such as summer firework shows or Tanabata, which celebrates the meeting of deities Orihime and Hikoboshi and is supposedly an auspicious day for finding love!
Consisting of a light and airy kimono-style top and loose short pants, jinbei were traditionally the sole preserve of Japanese males, but have become more unisex in recent years.
Typically made from light cotton or hemp, jinbei are perfect clothes for the sweltering heat that cloaks most of Japan in the middle of the year. Jinbei have hatched gaps along the stitching to allow for air flow – as well as having short sleeves and pants – and are quite utilitarian, in that they pass for both pajamas and outdoor causal wear. Jinbei often come in fairly muted color palettes and may feature wavy shijira wrinkles on the surface, or rectangular threads which give honeycombed effects on the garments’ exteriors.
3. Where Do Jinbei Come From?
Nihonbashi by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1841
There are competing theories as to the origins of jinbei, but the prevailing one stipulates that traditionally sodenashi-baori, clothes worn by the lower classes in the late Edo period (1603-1868), resembled jinbaori, a sleeveless garment donned by soldiers over their cuirasses. Sodenashi-baori then became popular amongst the citizenry as short-sleeved garments in early 20th century Osaka, at which time they acquired the name jinbei. They were at one time more like light overcoats, before becoming top-and-bottom sets in the 1960s.
4. Where are Jinbei Made?
Weaving Kurume Cotton
Jinbei have become very widespread in recent years – you’ll find them in the cupboards of many traditional inns and on the shelves of period-style clothing stores – so they are now produced in various parts of Japan. That said, as with all craftwork in the country, there are certain heartlands of the jinbei-production trade, including Japan’s old capital Kyoto, and the southern city of Kurume in Kyushu. Kurume Kasuri cotton is particularly useful for lightweight jinbei – find out more in 12 Things to Know About Kurume Cotton.
5. How are Jinbei Made?
Sewing Kurume Cotton
Jinbei are stitched together from individual pieces of textile, and can be made both by hand and machine. In Kurume, jinbei are made from tsumugi – 100% cotton, yarn-dyed and woven with a black weft to give the garments a speckled and textured appearance – and stitched by hand. This ensures the jinbei don’t wrinkle easily and allows for greater breathability.
6. Who Wears Jinbei Today?
Those who wear jinbei today comprises a much broader scope of people than in the past. At traditional ryokan inns you may see visitors wearing them around the hot spring areas and accommodation grounds in the summer. Many people also wear jinbei to festivals, and this isn’t necessarily exclusive to older Japanese – the nation’s youth and enthusiastic foreigners will often follow suit. And if you want to get into the summer spirit and don a jinbei yourself, it’s certainly something your Japanese hosts will appreciate. So when to wear a jinbei is ultimately in the eye of the beholder and no longer quite as dictated by class and tradition.
Jinbei don’t have obi belts like kimono, so they are very easy to slip on or off. Simply slide on the short pants – which may have a string to tie or a zipper and button according to your waist size – followed by the jacket top. Just remember that the jacket should be worn left over right: so fold in the right side first, then the left side over the top. Both sides have threads that you can tie in a simple bow to keep in place. It’s much easier than putting on a kimono, which requires a bit of practice, or even help from a specialist!
SHOP THE LOOK | Ocha Jinbei Sleeve
Jinbei are summer clothes, so wearing them in the winter will make you feel a little out of place, not to mention cold given the garments’ air-flow properties. Tanabata, on July 7, is one of the most popular summer festivals for wearing jinbei, though hanabi (fireworks) festivals also welcome droves of jinbei-wearing locals. Basically, don’t get to hung up about when is appropriate: if it’s hot and wearing a jinbei makes you feel comfortable, then go for it!
9. Should I Wear Jinbei Indoors or Outdoors?
You can wear jinbei wherever you see fit. Of course, if you’re going to a formal event, arriving in a jinbei might raise a few eyebrows. But they work well for lounging around an air-conditioned house or hotel, walking the old-town streets of Japan in search of snacks and souvenirs, toasting to good health and prosperity at an outdoor summer festival, or simply sitting down for a spot of meditation or thoughtful repose.
10. Are Jinbei Loungewear, or Pajamas, or Both?
SHOP THE LOOK | Sora Jinbei Waist Tie
Jinbei are all of the above. Given their lightness and airiness, they’re great for wearing around the house or when lounging on tatami flooring. If you’d prefer to use them as pajamas – for going to the onsen (hot spring) in your hotel before retiring for the evening, say – they work well on such occasions too. And as mentioned, if you want to wear them to a festival, to the local convenience store, or on a walk about town, then that’s also fair game.
11. Can I Wear a Jinbei Instead of a Yukata at a Ryokan?
Yukata robes tend to be the clothing of choice in ryokan, but jinbei also feature when the mercury starts to shoot up. Sometimes on check-in, you might get offered a choice of either. Wear whichever makes you feel most comfortable – and if you’re really unsure, you can always ask. Ryokan staff are nothing if not accommodating!
12. Do Jinbei Come in Different Colors, Patterns, and Materials?
SHOP THE LOOK | Ocha Jinbei Collar
Though jinbei often come in muted color palates with wavy or honeycombed effects on the exterior, there are a variety of different styles available. Alternative styles will usually come with some kind of traditional motif stitched into the cloth, including kanji script, flower patterns or spiritual symbolism. Here at Japan Objects Store, we offer several varieties of men’s jinbei: one evoking the calmness of the tea ceremony, another inspired by the sky, and a third created using traditional indigo-dyeing techniques.
13. What are the Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Jinbei?
SHOP THE LOOK | Women's Shima Samue
All jinbei are, in effect, unisex because of their neutral shap and adaptable sizes. However, in the modern era many have been created specifically with women in mind. But the only real discernable difference between men’s and women’s jinbei are the color patterns; the latter of which more closely resemble yukata. Female jinbei tend to bear more elaborate designs and bolder color tones, such as flowery pinks, rich reds, or dark backgrounds contrasted by a riot of colors and imagery.
14. What to Look For When Buying Jinbei?
SHOP THE LOOK | Aizome Jinbei Waist Tie
When buying jinbei, you want to ensure the textiles used are of high quality. As mentioned, the tsumugi cotton used for jinbei produced in Kurume ensures that the garments don’t wrinkle easily, therefore giving them a longer shelf life. If you buy jinbei made with a high percentage of synthetic fibers, it may only retain its shape for a few wash cycles – think of buying a more expensive, high-quality jinbei as a shrewd investment. Anything handmade and using natural dyes will, of course, also add extra authenticity to your purchase.
15. Where to Buy Jinbei?
There are plenty of places to buy (or rent) jinbei in Japan as well as a host of online stores catering to traditional Japanese clothing enthusiasts. Here at Japan Objects Store we offer a carefully curated selection of our favorite styles (with international shipping and free shipping deals available) alongside other loungewear options, such as long-sleeved samue. If you’d like to round off the summer jinbei look, you can purchase accompanying zori (slippers) and/or setta (sandals).
Jinbei do come in different sizes, but as the garments are designed to be a relaxed loose fit, exact measurements are not all that necessary. Using a sizing structure of Small, Medium, Large, etc. pick the one you think most appropriate – and if you’re unsure, check out our size guide.
17. How Do I Take Care of my Jinbei?
Two major things must be factored in when taking care of your jinbei: 1) wash at low temperatures with similar colors (or consider hand washing if possible), and 2) do not tumble dry. Washing 100% cotton at low temperatures helps maintain the purity of the original colors and prevents shrinkage. Tumble drying is best avoided as it can contribute to shrinkage and loss of shape. It’s also a good idea to hang your jinbei up in a wardrobe or hanger to keep it crease-free and extend its lifespan.
18. What Accessories Do I Need for a Men’s Jinbei?
SHOP THE LOOK | Edo Zori Slippers
Jinbei are often worn with the aforementioned setta sandals when outdoors, though you can opt for the more traditional – if slightly harder to walk in – stilted geta sandals instead. Setta sandals have thick, padded soles and comfortable rounded straps, which most people find more agreeable when going out for a walk. Check out 33 Traditional Japanese Clothing You'll Want to Wear for more options!
19. What Accessories Do I Need for a Women’s Jinbei?
SHOP THE LOOK | Miyako Indigo Haori
Handmade Bingata Wooden Geta Sandals, such as you will find in Japan Objects Store, work perfectly with jinbei and can be worn indoors or outdoors. The Passion Flower versions are particularly popular thanks to the botanical print on the straps which were created using traditional Okinawan dyeing techniques. Women may also select hair clips and brooches pinned to their jinbei jackets for an extra touch of flair. And when the temperature cools in the evening, you can wear a cotton haori jacket – a loose fitting short robe – over your jinbei.
20. What’s the Difference Between Jinbei and Samue?
Jinbei and samue have a lot in common – both are traditional garments that resemble pajamas to the Western eye. Seasonality, however, is the primary difference: samue are often found in ryokan, but can be worn year-round and are especially popular when its colder, whereas jinbei are an exclusively hot-weather garment. This is why jinbei always have short sleeves and short pants, while samue are long-sleeved with long bottoms. To find out more, check out 20 Things You Should Know About Samue.
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