Of all the cultures James Bond visits, he outwardly shows the most appreciation for Japanese culture in You Only Live Twice. He follows many of the Japanese’s customs even before he “becomes” Japanese. As a guest at Tiger Tanaka’s home, Bond wears a yukata and slippers. The yukata is a casual kimono made of cotton, and the name “yukata” means bathing clothes. Bond does indeed wear a yukata at the baths at Tanaka’s home.
Bond’s yukata is a printed pattern of grey on white that resembles trees and water. It has a shawl collar and the front parts overlap left side over right side across the body. The yukata is held closed around the waist with a black sash called an obi, and it’s tied in back. The yukata’s length reaches the ankles, and the wide sleeves end at the middle of the forearm. Tiger Tanaka’s yukata has all of the characteristics of Bond’s yukata, but his has a light grey ground with closely-spaced indigo lengthwise stripes and wavy black crosswise stripes that create a scale-like pattern. Bond wears dark brown slippers, and Tanaka wears cream slippers.
Since I know little about Japanese garments and have never worn them, I found most of my information on the yukaka Wikipedia entry. If anyone knows more about these Japanese garments, feel free to leave a comment below.
It’s interesting to see some posts on non-western and what most people would consider non-Bond like clothes, good way to keep things fresh. The way I always understood the history of western fashion, and please correct me if I am wrong, was that in the fourteenth century the rise of tailoring brought about the broad shouldered silhouette we are accustomed to for men’s clothes. Examples would include images of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy all the way to Sean Connery’s suits as Bond. This and the quick rate of fashion turn over was unique to the west, societies outside the west clothes’ had more of an emphasis on wrapping and draping e.g. robes than tailoring and remained relatively unchanged for long periods. In the case of Japan they adopted western styles during the Meiji period of the 19th century and today there is a mixture of western and traditional dress, western for business and traditional for the home and ceremonies. So Tanaka wearing suits during the day and traditional wear at home makes sense though the filmmakers could simply be playing to the perceived exoticness of Japan to 1960s audiences. But I do think it is interesting to see Bond out of his element in a way. I hope this bit was helpful, as always thanks for the blog it’s a wealth of information.
The yukata is traditionally used as a bath/lounging garment, but in pre-modern era Japan, it was frequently worn as a daily garment by members of the lower classes, due the expense of silk. There are countless variations, to include a standard “summer” yukata, made of a lightweight cotton-linen material, a winter weight yukata which was generally a thicker weave of the same sort of cotton, and there are even examples of a flannel-like material for very cold weather. The finer quality yukata are lined with a very lightweight gauze-type material and because of their construction, tend to hold their shape better and look much more constructed compared to unlined yukata. Given Tiger’s station in Japanese society and Bond’s penchant for the very best, this is likely what they were wearing at Tiger’s sentō (bath house).
Tiger is one of the all time great Bond allies … the Japanese “M” is incredibly stylish. Watching Y.O.L.T. is fascinating now, considering the pervasiveness of Japanese culture – the style and genre stuff is quite ahead of its time, and that extends right to the source of Fleming, whether the film was a drastic departure or not. I’d love an article about Tanaka’s charcoal suit.
The really interesting bit is the casting – Tetsuro Tamba was something of a proper famous actor in Japan, which is quite a contrast from how Felix Leiter was typically cast, comparable only to Jack Lord, really, as someone who not only “holds their own against Bond”, but has the cache to hold their own on screen with Connery, as well.