In the feudal past of the Land of the Rising Sun, there was a traditional Japanese outfit that was so popular that it became the most worn bottoms by the Japanese population for several centuries before being totally abandoned. Any guess? Yes, you're right, it is indeed the Hakama.
The Hakama (袴) is a type of traditional Japanese garment designed as skirt-like pants that is commonly worn over a Kimono. Hakama were traditionally worn by nobles, especially Samurai warriors during Feudal Japan but became the most used bottoms in Japan from the 16th to 18th century. Nowadays, Hakama are not that popular anymore and are mostly worn as part of the standard gi (uniform) for Aikido and other martial arts such as Judo and Karate.
Traditional garment in the past, nowadays the Hakama has been largely replaced for several reasons. Let's discover further together what is a Hakama and its history.
What does Hakama mean?
The word Hakama written 袴 or はかま in Japanese is the term that refers to a type of man's formal divided skirt worn as either a traditional Japanese garment for formal Japanese Outfits or as a uniform in most of the martial arts.
The word Hakama comes from the word "Hakamo" which describes a garment worn from the waist down by women in ancient times. It is possible to find this word in "Nihonshoki" (720) and also in "Kojiki" (628), two Shinto books which go back to a long time. Hakamo is commonly used since beginning of Feudal Japan.
Chinese noble wearing a Hakama during Tang Dynasty (690 to 705)
Historically, the origins of the Hakama dates back to the Sui and Tan dynasty were this garment was worn by the Chinese imperial court. Later, the Hakama exported itself to Japan during the Kamakura period (1185 to 1332) and became a traditional garment for the upper classes of Japanese society as well as for samurai warriors who wore it over a kimono (Hakama-shita).
During the history of Japan, the Hakama took on different styles and was mainly made for men, although in the beginning it was a unisex garment. During the Asuka and Nara era (6th to 8th century), the Hakama came in two versions. The first one was open on the front and was tied on each side of the waist with two straps. The second one was open on the left side and closed on one side only.
During the Sengoku period, Hakama imitated Portuguese balloon pants. A style that continued to be popular even during the Edo period where it is called karusan-bakama.
During the Heian period, from 794 to 1185, another version called sashinuki Hakama was very popular. This new Hakama covered the feet and was attached by straps to the ankles in such a way that it was inflated. The clip-on pants were thought to be as practical as possible and to adapt to the movements of the person.
During the Edo period, the Hakama was worn by the nobles as a complement to the outfits of the time such as the noshi and the kariginu (a sleeveless jacket with very pronounced shoulders). Very functional, these pants were also adopted by samurai warriors who usually wore them as Kamishimo. It is a combination of kimono, Hakama and kataginu. When the warrior visited the shōgun, he wore a Hakama called naga-bakama which greatly restricted his movements.
Over time, the Hakama gradually changed itself to become the garment we know today. It becomes fuller on the bottom, wooden boards were added in the back to bring more comfort.
During the Meiji era, the Hakama changed completely and looks like a full skirt and more or less long. Later on, the Hakama went more mainstream and started to be worn by most of the Japanese population, becoming the most common types of pants at the time.
With the Meiji era (1868 to 1912) came what we call the Westernization of Japanese Clothing, making the Hakama become less and less worn everyday until it finally became a garment that is only used for special occasions such as wedding ceremonies as Shinto religious attire.
What does a Hakama look like?
The Hakama is a wide pleated pants (seven pleats, five in front and two behind), with a rigid backrest (koshi ita) placed at the level of the lumbar region. It is tightened with four straps, on the left and on the right, as well in front as behind.
Although they appear balanced, the arrangement of the front pleats (three to the right, two to the left) is asymmetrical
Here is a list of the different material used on the market to design a Hakama and their proprieties:
Tetron is a durable and lightweight fabric made of 65% polyester and 35% rayon blends. Tetron Hakama has a matte texture, elegant appearance and is easy to wash in the washing machine
The Hakama is made of extra soft and extremely comfortable polyester. It is a little bit thicker than our high quality tetron fabric and is softer to the touch.
The black shade is darker than our other fabrics. Its cashmere feel gives you a fantastic and comfortable feeling even during the hardest workouts.
3. Shoaizome Coton
Cotton is one of the most popular materials for a Hakama which is most often dyed in true indigo blue from the Bushu region.
Shoaizome Cotton loved by historical warriors because of its anti-bacterial and anti-odour character, and because of the beautiful color that changes with time due to natural fading. This fabric is ideal for practitioners who are looking for a light and relatively indigo colored Hakama.
In addition, there are several forms of Cotton Hakama. Some are light and flowless which is very confortable to wear outside. Others, thicker, heavier and more robust are perfect for martial arts training.
Usually the Hakama is dyed black or in a dark color as it symbolically represents with the gi (top), very often white, the union of the opposites (in and yo) of Taiji.
The negative principle or In (Yin in Chinese) is materialized by the white gi: the upper body must indeed be completely relaxed during the practice in order to let the ki flow freely. The positive principle or Yo (Yang) is symbolized by the black Hakama: the Aikidoka must have a stable and solid posture, be anchored in the ground.
Thus, the two polarities are united at the level of the hara, that is to say at the level of the belt. Indeed, the hara is the center of all movement, which is the result of a correct harmonization between these two principles. But even if the Hakama is dark in principle, it is not an absolute rule. The white Hakama is usually worn by post-war masters.
In the past, white Hakama was worn by beginners. To present themselves for the 1st dan, the students (Aikido yoseikan) wore a white Hakama. The second doshu, Kishumaru Ueshiba, wore a gray Hakama. O Sensei wore either a white or black Hakama.
Hakama colors worn in different Martial arts
- Black or dark blue: Aikido
- Black or white: Laido
- Black or dark Blue: Kyudo
- Dark blue: Kendo
Since the beginning, a great majority of the Hakama worn during Feudal Japan used to be dyed for several reasons. Indeed, from a more scientific point of view, a tincture has several interesting properties:
- Its smell is a natural repellent to insects and various wild animals. A property that must not have escaped the workers of the fields or even the samurai.
- Its antiseptic capacity allows the cleaning of wounds and improve the healing, another property very useful to manual workers and fighters (even if one should not expect miracles!).
- The softening effect of the tincture on the fabric, especially cotton, was very appreciated in the past by martial artists.
There is a centuries old tradition in Japan surrounding a certain type of dye for most of the Hakama, that of indigo. However, it is difficult to know exactly when this dye was discovered. It is known that it has been used for more than a thousand years in India and also for a very long time in China.
In Japan, traces of indigo can be found as early as the 14th century, but the process is probably much older. Used over time as work clothes, then as a raw material in high fashion for the nobility, and finally in the manufacture of samurai equipment, today indigo is mainly found in the manufacture of martial arts equipment and in the manufacture of traditional fabrics (furoshiki, curtain, etc. ...) rather intended for decoration.
With the development of the chemical industry, chemical dyes gradually replaced aizome indigo. The sector was converted to the manufacture of luxury and decorative fabrics, but many workshops disappeared. It was the growing popularity of Kendo in the 20th century that revived the business, mainly for dyeing Bogu (armor), Kendogi and Hakama.
Types of Hakama
Unlike today, it existed several kinds of Hakama in the past during Feudal Japan. One Hakama for example was a kind of tube skirt, without "legs". Another was similar, but much longer, and was worn when visiting the shogun or the emperor.
Traditionally, there are three types of Hakama; the Umanori Hakama, the Andon Hakama and the Nobakama.
The Umamori Hakama (馬乗り, lit. "horse-riding Hakama") is the divided form of the Hakama that look like trousers. Wider at the waist and narrower in the leg, this Hakama was used by mounted samurai during Feudal Japan.
Umanori Hakama was originally a means for protecting riders' legs from bushes, very similar to cowboy pants. Afterwards, the samurai got off the horse and became foot soldiers. However, although it wasn't necessary anymore, foot samurai persisted in wearing Umanori Hakama in order to mark their difference and to be more easily identifiable among other soldiers.
The Andon Bakama (行灯袴, lit. "lantern Hakama") is the undivided form of the Hakama that looks like a tube skirt. More formal and perfect to pair with a Kimono, Andon Bakama were the traditional garment that Japanese people used to wear over their Kimono for important events.
The Nobakama (野袴, lit. "fields Hakama") is a commoner version of the traditional Hakama designed with large pockets for workers like peasants and farmers.
Hakama Seven Pleats
Any practitioners who wears a Hakama have at least complained one time about how it is difficult to maintain this garment. Indeed, the number of interlocking folds turns any task, especially folding and ironing, a real painful process. However, despite the practical aspect of owning a Hakama, there is above all a whole symbolism about its number of pleats
Fundamentally, there are seven folds on a Hakama, five on the front and two in the back that fold towards each other. All of them represent the seven virtues of the Bushido which is a guideline that lists all assets that a martial artists should possess.
Seven Virtues of Bushido
The Bushido code is the ancient code of conduct of the Japanese Samurai and lists 7 virtues that any martial artist should have and follow in order to follow the Shintoism precepts:
- Jin (仁, benevolence and generosity): This virtue requires a caring attitude towards others, regardless of their origin, age, sex, opinion or disability. Care must be taken not to cause unnecessary trouble or pain to oneself or to others.
- Gi (義, honor and justice): The sense of honor should not be misplaced and used as a pretext for any action, especially dueling. It involves respect for oneself and for others. It implies being faithful to one's word, to one's commitments and to one's ideal. The meaning of gi is "to have a sense of duty, to act in a just manner".
- Rei (礼, politeness and courtesy): Politeness is only the expression of sincere interest in others, whatever their social position, through gestures and attitudes full of respect. Ceremonial and etiquette are part of the externalization of politeness. They serve to provide a framework in which the relationship with others, with the dojo, with the teacher, is pleasant and harmonious.
- Chi (智, wisdom and intelligence): Wisdom is the ability to give things and events only the importance they really have, without passion that clouds the judgment. The resulting serenity allows one to distinguish between the positive and the negative of all things or events, which is a form of intelligence.
- Shin (信, trust and sincerity): It is fundamental in martial arts. Without it, the practice is only a simulation, even a useless gesticulation. If one is not sincere in one's work, one's respect for others, one's attacks, one lies to oneself and one does not allow others to progress. The commitment must be total, permanent, unequivocal, because we all know that the illusion cannot last long in front of the requirements and the realism of the way, and the glance of the others.
- Chu (忠, loyalty and respect): This is a value that is disappearing in our contemporary society, when money or the lure of power can buy consciences and therefore loyalties. This value is however the keystone of our martial arts: loyalty to one's teacher, to the internal rules of one's school, to one's elders, to one's dojo, to one's weapons and clothes, to one's kamiza, and of course to the founder. This is the reflection of the rectitude of the body and the spirit of the practitioner.
- Ko (孝, piety): There is no question of religion here, otherwise we would be in the throes of the struggles that go with it. It is necessary to understand piety in the sense of deep and authentic respect of the technical bases, the codes, the martial art, the spiritual, historical and philosophical aspects which underlie Aikido.
How to wear and tie a Hakama?
In the Land of the Rising Sun, tying one's Hakama is a real ritual with codes to respect. Indeed, one does not tie his pleated pants in any way, and more particularly for the practice of a martial art.
Putting on a Hakama is an important moment which requires a certain form of concentration and which requires to follow strict rules.
- First of all, you have to put the garment on, making sure to position the legs on the right and left side. The 5 folds go on the front.
- Then, take the two long front straps or strands and place them against the belly a little above the obi.
- At this point, the straps must go around the waist then cross a first time on the front to be tied in the back above the belt.
- Now grab the short straps and place the backrest against your back.
- Next, you need to pass the straps under the already attached strap above the waistband and then cross it over the front.
- Now pass the top strap under all the others and tie the ends. Then, bring back the long straps once again to the front where they are crossed again under the hem, making sure that the right strap is well under the left one.
- Make a first loop knot to create the final knot called Jumonji himo musubi.
When to wear a Hakama?
Contrary to popular belief, the Hakama was not designed to hide the movement of the feet or give the illusion of floating. In fact, samurai often wore leggings that could be seen very well under the fabric. In addition, it was pulled up and tucked into the belt during battles or duels, just as the sleeves of the kimono were held up by the Tasuki.
The Hakama was originally a means of protection for the legs of the riders against the shrubs similar to the pants of the cowboys.
Hakama in Martial Arts
In Japan, with the Western influence, but also for practical reasons, the Hakama has become a garment essentially worn by the practitioners of certain martial arts from the 3rd grade (Kyu) or the 1st kyu depending on the school. In other words, after 3 or 5 years of assiduous practice.
Generally, it is worn for the practice of Aikido, Kinomichi, jiu-jitsu (in ko ryu), sumo and more rarely judo. Note that sumo wrestlers do not wear Hakama in competition, but must wear this traditional outfit during official ceremonies. In this context, it is made of cotton, silk or polyester and sometimes even in a mixture of the three fibers. In martial arts, the Hakama is called keikobakama which literally means "training Hakama".
Hakama for martial arts practice are called Umanori Hakama with separate legs. Nevertheless, some schools opt also for the nobakama with narrower leg sections under certain circumstances.
As for the color of the Hakama, it usually depends on the discipline. For example, in some schools, Shodan and above must always wear a blue Hakama, while Shihan, Kyoju Dairi and Shibucho wear a black Hakama. Similarly, Aikido Hakama is always plain, black, indigo aizome or navy blue.
While the Hakama for Laido is white or with stripes, in Kendo, they are black or navy color depending on the dojo. Beginners, women and children can wear white Hakama. However, it is important to know that most Ko-ryu schools have a very flexible approach in terms of colors.
In Toda-ha Buko-ryu, the Hakama is worn white, blue or black. While in Kuroda sensei's Shinbukan, all colors are allowed. However, regardless of the discipline and school, the sensei or instructor must always wear a gray Hakama.
In Europe, the Hakama is mostly worn by any level art martial artist in Kyudo, Kendo, Iaido or Jiu Jitsu Koryu (traditional styles) and it is part of the fighting and training outfit. In others, liker Aikido, it is generally worn only when the student has reached a technical level that allows him to manage the discomfort of wearing the Hakama.
In some schools, only "black belts" can wear the Hakama but it is not a strict rule as others accept that any martial artist can wear it. Sometimes, women even may start wearing it earlier than men (the gi was originally an undergarment; this practice has been controversial among women because of discrimination).
However, the decision to allow a student to wear it is left to the discretion of the teacher. It has become a de facto sign of personal investment in the discipline and technical level, although this is not its original meaning.
But generally speaking, the Hakama is worn by most of the martial artists for tradition and as rank symbol.
Hakama for graduation ceremonies and special events
In addition to martial arts, Hakama is also worn at major events and especially at graduations and wedding ceremonies.
- For a wedding, men wear it in its silk and stripes version over a kimono combined with a haori jacket.
- For a graduation, women can match it with their kimonos. Specifically, the Hakama is worn with a montsuki kimono, a white tabi, kimono sandals and a white straw.
However, even if they look a lot alike, you should never wear a Hakama over a Yukata as it is a very disrespectful regards to Japanese customs.
Finally, the Hakama is also worn during Shinto ceremonies by most of the different members. Shinto priests (Shinto kannushi) wear white Hakama, male servants wear green Hakama and female servants wear red-orange Hakama (symbol of purity and virginity).
Hakama Size Chart
The size of the Hakama depends on the length of the legs and the position where it is tied. Traditionally, it is accepted that men tie the Hakama on the hips and that it falls on the outer ankle bone. However, it is also possible to wear it longer.
For women, the Hakama should be worn around the waist. Therefore, you should choose a longer Hakama. Note that Hakama sizes are not decided arbitrarily, they are measured according to the old system of measurement Kujira-shaku.
The Kujira-Shaku is the unit of measurement used in the making of traditional Japanese clothes since Feudal Japan. For the calculation, 1 kuji-shaku is equivalent to 3.79cm.
Here is an indicative Hakama size chart on which is based most of the Hakama sold in Japan.
|150 - 155||144 - 147||21|
|155 - 160||147 - 150||22|
|160 - 162||150 - 154||23|
|163 - 165||154 - 158||24|
|165 - 167||159 - 162||24.5|
|168 - 170||163 - 164||25|
|170 - 172||
165 - 166
|173 - 175||
167 - 168
|175 - 177||169 - 171||26.5|
|178 - 180||172 - 173||27|
|181 - 184||174 - 176||27.5|
|185 - 190||177 - 180||28|
|190 - 195||180 - 185||29|
|195 - 200||185 - 190||30|
How to wash a Hakama?
Just got your first Hakama and want to make sure you're taking all the best precautions to maintain its integrity? Then, follow this guide to understand how to clean a Hakama safely.
Washing a Hakama in Polyester
- If your Hakama is brand new, we highly recommend hand washing it with cold cold without any detergent. However, if you want to use a washing machine, you should fold your Hakama properly and place it in a laundry net or in a knotted cloth to prevent it from losing its folds.
- Next times, you can wash it as any regular garment at a temperature should that does not exceed 45°C (113°F). Polyester Hakama and black cotton Hakama do not loose their pigment, so you can wash them with other clothes. We recommend soaking your Hakama in the sink or bathtub for one hour with detergent.
- Let your Hakama dry slowly immediately after washing. (Never use a dryer and avoid drying in direct sunlight). Take care to refold the folds before drying, then, if possible, hold them with clothespins.
Washing a Indigo dyed Hakama
- On the first time, hand wash it with your hands without detergent. Let it soak for a few hours and repeat the process 4 to 6 times (It is possible to add white vinegar and/or salt as a fixative).
- Next times, you can put it in the washing machine at maximum at 30°C. (86°F). Never wash with other clothes, natural indigo rubs off strongly, even after many washes.
- Dry it on a line, or on a hanger immediately after washing. (Never use the dryer and avoid drying in direct sunlight). Take care to redo the folds before drying, then, if possible, hold them with clothespins.
How to fold a Hakama?
Like all types of traditional Japanese clothing, the Hakama must be treated with the utmost care, especially because of the folds and straps. This is not only to ensure that it will last for a long time, but also because the Hakama represents a very strong symbol of commitment.
Thus, the folding of the Hakama must be done in the rules of art. In fact, learning how to fold this garment is considered an important step in Japanese disciplines where the Hakama is worn,
Concretely, the folding of the Hakama follows a certain formalism and must respect a good number of rules. Among these, it is formally forbidden to face back the kamiza with a Hakama which is, In other words, the wall on which the portrait of the founder of the martial art is usually hung. Also, the Hakama must always be placed on the floor.
About the folding itself, the Hakama being a very symmetrical garment, it will be necessary to fold it while taking care to preserve the balance of the right and left parts. Concretely, the folding is as follows:
- Lay the Hakama flat on the floor, making sure that the two folds at the back are well respected;
- Put the front folds in place;
- Fold the right side along its entire length so that the Hakama makes a right angle with the bottom while taking care that the flap is well net to avoid the false folds;
- Fold the left side over its entire length in the same way as the right side to form a long rectangle;
- Fold the Hakama from the bottom to the top in several regular steps to obtain a square;
- Fold the large straps to make a strip the same length as the square;
- Cross the bands ;
- Cover with the short straight strip;
- Pass the short strap under the crosspiece and the short strap on the left;
- Take the right strap and pass it under the long strap on the right;
- Repeat the same step with the left strap;
- Fold down the right strap so that it is in line with the long strap;
- Iron the right strap folded under the whole braid;
- Repeat the action with the left strap;
- Slide the remaining portion of the right strap into the loop created, making sure to surround the left long strap;
- Do the same with the remaining left strap;