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Korean Hanbok vs Japanese Kimono – Epic Dress Battles of History

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What is a Hanbok? 

 A hanbok is a traditional Korean dress.  Throughout Korean history, commoners wore the hanbok and it became popularized during the celebrated Joseon Dynasty.  Interestingly, the hanbok was adopted from nomadic cultures in northern Asia, so its style is drastically different from the formal wear adopted by agricultural cultures like China.    Although the style of the hanbok evolved over time, Koreans still wear the hanbok for formal or semi-formal events like festivals, celebrations, special family events, weddings or first birthdays.

 What is a Kimono?

The Japanese traditional formal wear is known as a kimono.  There are some Japanese who dress in a kimono every day, but the kimono is usually reserved for special events like tea ceremonies or weddings.  When I traveled to Kyoto and Nara, however, I saw far more kimonos being worn than I’ve seen hanboks while living in Seoul.  Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon to see either being worn in their respective countries.  The Kimono was heavily influenced by the hanfu (Chinese traditional dress) of the Han Dynasty of China.  In time, the Kimono also underwent several changes.

 The Battle of the Traditional Dress Styles

Koreans and the Japanese do not share a heartwarming history of friendship and tolerance.  In fact, Koreans still resent Japan for subjecting Korea to brutal colonialism in the first half of the 20th century.  The manifestations of this resentment are apparent in Korea’s zealous persistence for the territorial rights to three rocks with some fish (Dokdo Island) east of the Korean Peninsula.

Furthermore, while Americans are finally aware of some South Korean culture (regrettably through Gangnam Style), those of us in Asia know that the K-wave (Korean dramas and pop music or Hallyu Wave) has consistently dominated the airwaves in Asia for many years.  One could argue that Japan is losing ground.

But for now, it’s time for the most important fight of all.  Which country has the most beautiful traditional clothing?  Kimonos and hanboks are both full of vibrant color and carry the significance of wonderful traditions.  However, only one can be the winner.

The dresses in all of the photographs are within a similar price range.  There are versions of the Kimono which cost over a thousand dollars which I did not include in the pictures.  I included pictures of the dresses you are most likely to see when visiting Japan or Korea.

The pictures of kimonos were taken during my visit to Japan.  Since it was summertime, most of my Kimono pictures are actually pictures of Yukatas- a cheaper, casual version of the Kimono.  On the other hand, my friend, Silvia Conedera, modeled for the photographs of the hanbok.  She commissioned me to photograph her in her hanbok before she left Korea to study fashion in Colombia.  Haley and I will miss her after she leaves, but we’re happy she’s pursuing her dreams.

The Hanbok

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Hanbok dress
Hanbok dress

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The Kimono/Yukata

Kyoto Pictures-1 Hanbok Post-22

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48 thoughts on “Korean Hanbok vs Japanese Kimono – Epic Dress Battles of History

  1. First of all, I love all traditions! Love the Kimono but adore the hanbok. Love Silvia, her shoes and bag! The cup of tea she is holding makes me want a cup right now. I also am very fond of the writer and photographer of this article. : )


  2. I don’t understand why one countries traditional dress is better then the other, both hanbok and kimono are beautiful in their own way. And in the kimono pictures only the first picture is of kimonos, the rest are simple cotton robes called yukata worn in the summer especially at festivals. (I know I wear and own a small collection of kimono)


  3. I don’t understand why there should be a competition of which traditional outfit is more pretty, both are very beautiful.
    And in the kimono pictures, only the first picture is of kimono. The rest are yukata, cotton robes worn only in summer at festivals or at traditional Japanese inns. (I have a small collection of kimono and know how to wear them)


  4. It was by accident, it said comment not posted and the second time it went through. (it does it sometimes)
    If it’s for fun then okay but it still sounded a bit like costume x is better then costume y because…..
    Both hanboks (modernized and traditional especially the type worn by kisaeng’s) are stunning as is kimono with seasonal patterns and elements.


  5. I don’t want to be picky, buut the pictures you posted are all “Yukata”, they are a lighter, easier to wear and especially cheaper version of Kimono worn mostly for summer festivals. We wear Kimono for momentous ocassion like Seijinshiki (coming of age), graduation or weddings : ) (i.e.: http://myfurisode.com/vote/list ) it’s a big difference in material quality, patterns and pirce. You can buy a full Yukata set for 50~100$. to buy a Kimono… 1000$ minimum.. most people will rent everything for 250~400$ a day..! I think if you want a fair “battle” you should compare Hanbok with real Kimono, not Yukata. : )


    1. Noted- this was never a super serious post, it was kind of a joke to show off my photographs of my friend. The Hanbok is not 1000 dollars so I think I included dresses within a comparable price range. However, I updated the post with some of your information. Thanks!


      1. No Problem! : ) Your Pictures are very very nice and your friend is super cute! If you go to Japan again, you can take a lot of kimono pictures in spring when people celebrating coming of age walk the towns


  6. I got many yukata’s and eyeing hanbok for a looong time, yukata much easier to get while hanbok soo much hassle due to measurement (you need exact body measurement to buy them)..


  7. I think Kimono is more well known in the western world. I’ve never heard of Hanbok until I met my Korean boyfriend. Also, I think Westerner are more used to a dress accentuating female curves so Kimono might be more familiar to us, but Hanbok has it’s beauty as well.


  8. Kimono or more accurately Wafuku might look very nice, but it is extremely complex to wear and tie. Even when you tie the OBI (belt) for yukata (summer robe), you still need the skill to do so. My Japanese cousin in Yamagata even need three of her friends to help her to wear a FULL FLEDGE (fully attired formal) furisode kimono on the new year day. It took her at least 45 minutes to do so. Or else she might have to spend USD250 (minimum) to hire a kimono attire licensed expert to help her to wear the new year kimono. Furthermore, when you wear a kimono (for female), you cannot walk with big steps no matter what you think, you cannot simply walk the way you like to walk. It’s beautiful but yet a bit torturing to wear and move in kimono. Hanbok might be not so sophisticated as kimono, hanbok might not comes with so many accessories like kimono or wafuku, but at least Hanbok is much more comfortable, it’s not so tight, you don’t have to walk in small steps and most importantly much much more easier to wear. Sorry to say that, but for plus sized ladies, hanbok is a better choice.


  9. One more thing. On average kimono or wafuku are much much more expensive than hanbok, even a decent and simple yukata (summer robe) will cost you easily USD100-200++. My Japanese counsin full set furisode kimono cost her USD8500++ (excluding GST) it is made with fully nishijin silk/textile together with all the accessories (excluding the head accessories), she spent another USD300 for her sterling silver (with pearls and simple jade piece) and gold plated hairpin/accessories.


  10. I pick Kimono/Wafuku, my family are kinda “traditional” and every festivals/matsuri we wear Kimonos. Kimono looks more sophisticated and men’s kimonos are really good too.


  11. i m falling in love with hanbok. although i am studying in jpan and can speak japanese. compare to yukata, it is easier to wear hanbok. how much it cost?


  12. I am also a huge fan of hanbok! Absolutely enjoyed reading your post, except that I had to point out something for you and many people who would get a wrong insight of Dokdo. I am from america and now studying Oriental history in an university in tohoku, japan. I have deeply researched about this island.
    Dokdo as an inherent territory of Korea has been under effective control of Korea since Japan defeated in the WW2. Dokdo is the small, uninhabited island which Imperial Japan illegally incorporated into Japanese land in 1905. After Japan lost the WW2, Dodko was returned to Korea according to SF Treaty because it was the land Japan took from Korea by greed and violation.Dokdo is just a part of Korea which Korean peoples are living. Japanese claiming “Dokdo(Takeshima) is Japanese land.” is like Japanese claiming “Korea is Japanese land because we colonized it before.” “Korea is Japanese land.” sounds very nonsense, doesn’t it? Claiming “Dokdo(Takeshima) is Japanese land.” is nonsense as much as “Korea is Japanese land.”I hope you understand the real situation related on Dokdo.


  13. Actually, hanbok was also heavily influenced by Hanfu. There are many types of Hanfu and this being one that the Hanbok resembles the closest


  14. Hanfu is 2000 year old costume. Chinese doesn’t have single idea how it was made and look like, The only way to have it is from old pictures which are even hard to distinguish. Only way to rebuild it is from knowing and believing Hanbok and Kimono are derived from Hanfu. So most Chinese seeing is not actual hanfu but copies from Hanbok or Kimono’s image.
    From Chinese perspective view point, Kimono is one piece hanfu, and Hanbok is two piece.
    Wait until see the one-piece hanbok, it is so sexy will make your nose breed, only the husbands are allow to see the one-piece hanbok.


  15. Great instruction, but I have to point out that Hanfu actually was not specifically worn during Han dynasty, it is the name of a wild variety of traditional Chinese costumes for Han ethnic throughout history. It is pretty confusing that Hanfu is short for Hanzu(Ethnic Han) Fuzhuang(Costume/Dressing), not for Hanchao(Han Dynasty) Fuzhuang(Costume/Dressing), although they are the same phonetically. Moreover, the most stylish and popular kind of Hanfu was specifically from Han/Tang dynasties (Tang dynasty follows Han dynasty), which is also the one you mentioned that exerted so much influence on Japanese kimono, many Chinese will not have trouble if someone mistakes Ethnic Han costume with Han dynasty costume in talks, they are somewhat very much similar semantically.


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