Happi are loose-fitting traditional Japanese coats with sleeves that hang past the middle of the forearm. Happi have no buttons or zippers, so it’s secured around the waist with a belt known as an obi.
Happi were traditionally worn by samurai, and later by craftsman, workers and fire fighters. They often have symbols or kanji on the back representing the name of the organization or family of the wearer.
In modern times, happi are most commonly worn during festivities, special events, and by taiko performers. Taiko players will almost always have their own happi coats, often with the name of their group labeled on the back and along the front rims. This happi-wearing trend of taiko players around the world is believed to have been originally set by the Japanese taiko group, Ondekoza.
If you’re playing taiko or performing traditional Japanese arts, a happi is the perfect thing to wear. In addition to providing a traditional Japanese appearance, its loose fit allows for easy movement, which is a necessity for particularly active performances.
Happi can be bought for a reasonable price, but they’re also very easy to make. All you really need is a very basic understanding of how to use a sewing machine.
A happi consists of three parts, the arms, the body and the collar. Here's how to make one.
1. Cut the following pieces (click for a better view):
2. Fold the ends of the sleeves over two times. Each fold should be 4cm in length. Next, fold the sleeve in half and make a cut across the pink line show below.
3. Next, take the sleeve and place it on top of the torso piece so that the two purple points match. The outer-side of the sleeve should be in contact with the outer-side of the torso (the inner side of each piece should be facing outward).
4. Sew the pieces together leaving about 2-3cm of space at the ends. The sowing line should be about 1cm from the edge.
5. Next fold the sleeve in half and sow the ends together (1cm away from the edge).
6. Fold the open end of the sleeve over 2 times as you did before, and sow that in place too. The folds strengthen and give weight to the ends of the sleeves. Repeat 3-6 with the other sleeve.
7. Once both sleeves are attached, flip the happi inside out, with the sleeves hiding inside of the torso piece. At this point, there should be a small hole in the arm-pit area. Sow that area together. This part is a little tricky and will require a little finagling.
8. The sides of the torso piece are still open at this point. So, sow the open sides together from the armpit all the way down to the bottom of the happi (all the while the happi should be inside out).
9. At this point it should really start looking like a happi. Now that the torso piece is in place, fold the bottom edge of the happi over three times (like you did with the ends of the sleeves), then sow it in place. This strengthens the bottom edge of the happi.
10. We’re almost there! Take the collar piece and fold the two long ends towards the center, and then fold the whole thing over again in half. Iron the whole thing so that the creases stay in place. If you open it up, you should have creases dividing the rim into fourths (see first diagram).
11. Cut a 0.5-1cm slit on the torso piece (see orange mark in diagram). Next, take the rim piece and sandwich 1-2cm of the edge of the torso piece in between. Sow them together.
12. You should have a little rim material left at the bottom of the happi. Fold it over so that it’s flush with the bottom edge of the happi. Sow the fold together.
13. And you’re done! I know it’s a little complicated in words… if you’re not too confident with sowing, or if (in the more likely case) these instructions make little sense, try practicing with paper. Cut out the pieces out of paper, and practice the folds and creases with them. Seeing the pieces for yourself will make it much easier to understand the whole process.
If you have a general interest in making clothes, I highly recommend Samantha's dress-making site. I made happi a very long time ago, and had to work mostly from memory when writing this post. Fortunately, Samantha's site offered happi instructions and provided a great reference. Many thanks to her. The site is in Japanese but a little google translating should do the job. Check it out.
Please give this post a +1, or share it on Facebook/Twitter if you found it helpful! Feel free to post any questions or comments. If you have some photos of your brand-new happi, let me know- I would love to share it on TaikoSkin.
Here are some other taiko related resources you might find helpful:
The TaikoSkin podcast covers a whole range of topics related to taiko- building drums, starting groups, getting performances offers, going to grad school. Just about anything really. Download them in the iTunes store, or find all of the episodes here.