Monday, September 26, 2016


Everywhere you go here, people are wearing colourful short-sleeved shirts called "Kariyushi". They're similar to Hawaiian Aloha shirts, but dressier, with an upright collar and often more muted, abstract designs, and they're worn buttoned up, not open. The name "Kariyushi" means happy or joyous. And I love them.

Me, in my newest kariyushi shirt. I don't think I'll quit my day job for a modelling career just yet.

In the 1970s a hotel association designed Hawaiian shirts with Okinawa-inspired designs for hotel staff and guides to wear. They proved quite popular, and started spreading beyond the tourism industry. In the 1990s an association trademarked "Kariyushi wear". To call it "kariyushi" the shirt must be sewn in Okinawa and "promote Okinawan tourism" - meaning, I guess, no tacky patterns, logos or things like that. The shirts quality and their image improved, and people started wearing them for "casual Friday" and other informal situations.

The kariyushi shirts got a lot of national exposure in 2000 when world leaders wore the shirts while attending a summit in Okinawa, and the shirt got another push when it was promoted nationally as an alternative to suit and tie for the very successful "Cool Biz" summer campaign. You can see cabinet ministers attending meetings in kariyushi shirts every summer.

Former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Mekere Morauta. Koizumi always rocked kariyushi shirts; current prime minister Abe, on the other hand, just looks sad and a little lost, like he misses his tie.

Shirts are available at clothing stores and department stores in a large range of designs and fabrics. A cheap shirt might cost a few thousand yen, while a formal one made from Okinawan fabric can easily cost twenty thousand yen or more. During summer (April to November) they're worn everywhere in Okinawa, including the Okinawa government assembly, government workers, bankers and regular office workers; from young fashionable women to old Pachinko-playing guys. Many companies have their own special designs for their customer-facing employees.

A lone salaryman nursing an Awamori in Naha. He likely came here straight from the office.

The shirts are considered formal wear. Not only are they fine for banking and office work; people wear them for weddings and other formal occasions. There's even black unadorned shirts for funerals. They're so common that when you see a guy in a suit in the summer, he's probably here on a business trip from outside the island.

Office workers waiting for the bus.

I really love these shirts. They're cool and lightweight during summer. They'll dry quickly when you get caught in a sudden rain storm. And while the patterns are colourful patterns and the style is relaxed, they still manage to look neat, even proper. Much better than a rumpled suit jacket and soggy see-through white shirt with sweat stains.

They're the perfect working clothes for the hot, humid weather here in Japan, and I can only hope they will one day become as accepted on the mainland as here in Okinawa.


  1. I like black colour clothing. Is black kariyushi shirt only for funeral?
    I have been getting conflicting answers in Okinawa.

  2. Is black kariyushi shirt only for attending funeral?
    I have been getting conflicting answers in Okinawa.

  3. I'd say a plain black shirt would look a little like you got a funeral shirt by mistake. A patterned shirt, on the other hand, would be no problem even if the pattern is very subdued or subtle. This is just my impression though.


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