Underneath the ‘Orientalist’ kimono


Special To The Japan Times

Is it “racist” for non-Japanese to wear kimono? That question has been fiercely debated since protesters entered Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in late June to decry an exhibition encouraging visitors to try on a red uchikake kimono in front of a 1876 painting by Claude Monet of his wife wearing a similar garment.

The original protesters — who, though not Japanese, identified as Asian-American — said the museum was perpetuating a racist stereotype that exoticized Asian culture. That stereotype has its roots in the colonial era, when Europeans viewed non-Western cultures as an oversimplified selection of traits in a way that dehumanized them — known by cultural theorists as an “Orientalist” perspective.

The museum stopped allowing visitors to try on the kimono but continued allowing them to touch it. By July 16, protests had increased and become part of a wider advocacy movement protesting modern Orientalism on social media through the hashtag #whitesupremacykills on Twitter and “Stand Against Yellow Face” Facebook group.

But the reaction to the exhibition from Japan — where the decline in popularity of the kimono as a form of dress is a national concern — was one of puzzlement and sadness. Many Japanese commentators expressed regret that fewer people would get to experience wearing a kimono.

In fact, many in the kimono industry see growth in foreign markets as essential to the garment’s survival, as two new books recently published on the subject show: “Kimono: A Modern History” by Terry Satsuki-Milhaupt, and “Kimono Now” by Manami Okazaki.

Satsuki-Milhaupt reveals the kimono to be a tool of nationhood and a projection of Japan’s self-image. She shows how, during the mid-1800s, Japan itself was complicit in encouraging tacit Orientalism by making the kimono a symbol of the unified national identity it created after opening its borders to the West in 1853.

The government proudly marketed kimono at international expos, while Japanese traders sold their wares to European shops specializing in Chinese artifacts, unbothered by Westerners’ tendencies to blur the distinctions between the two countries’ forms of dress.

At the same time, the West misappropriated the kimono, tainting it with sexual connotations just as it did with geisha, a misperception perpetuated by artists such as Jacques Joseph Tissot, who, in 1864, painted a European woman with a kimono flapping open to reveal her nude body.

Satsuki-Milhaupt was one of many experts who reappraised the kimono in recent years amid a crisis in the industry. Sales continue to plummet as Japanese people wear it less and less, while traditional fabrics and techniques are facing extinction as aging artisans pass away without successors.

Satsuki-Milhaupt suggests that portraying the kimono as “traditional” will only diminish its relevance. In fact, deliberate attempts last century to preserve the kimono industry by turning its once-anonymous artisans to celebrities had the ironic effect of transforming it from everyday apparel into a rarely worn form of ceremonial dress.

Those efforts also froze the kimono in time, codifying the way it is worn in a set of rules now deemed so complex that only special schools are able to teach them.

“The real reason why traditional kimono culture is about to (become) extinct,” wrote avant-garde fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, “is because of its tendency to aspire to ‘perfection’ as a style that does not allow any other foreign item to be added to it. My advice for anyone wearing kimono is to challenge this rigidity; let’s forget about attending kimono lessons.”

Even though clothes recognized as kimono have been worn for more than 1,000 years, the current rules are based on mid-1800s fashion, when Japan created the word “kimono” to distill its vast culture into a marketable format it could present to the West. The various garments that existed at the time — including the uchikake (a padded overlayer), kosode (short-sleeved variation), hitoe (single layer summer garment) and yukata (light robe originally worn after bathing) — were subsumed under the umbrella term “kimono,” which literally means “something to wear.”

Satsuki-Milhaupt describes how the kimono became a canvas onto which both contemporary life and Japan’s self-image — torn between patriotic fervor and a sense of inferiority toward the dominant West — were projected. By 1900, wearing a kimono was a way of expressing patriotic pride, while adopting Western dress signaled one’s aspirations to be equal to Europe.

Yet, at the same time, kimono also became more “Western,” with designs shifting from representations of indigenous plants to European motifs such as yachts and tulips, and incorporating artistic styles such as art deco. They were also increasingly made with imported wool rather than domestic silk.

The kimono industry is now trying to adapt the garment to the modern era, as Okazaki’s visually rich “Kimono Now” demonstrates. Okazaki feels that adversity in the industry has created a frenetic energy and increased innovation. She showcases kimono houses striving to preserve traditional techniques for weaving and dyeing the kimono, but also shows contemporary designers reinventing the garment by adopting new fabrics, patterns and ways of wrapping it around the body.

One kimono format offering more freedom for interpretation is the yukata, which is seen as a younger, hipper and easier-to-wear version. Okazaki quotes Rumix, a young designer based in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood, whose graphic designs are inspired by everything from the movie “Apollo 13” to Yukio Mishima novels, as comparing yukata as the “b-side” to the formal world of kimono.

Sadly, those trying to modernize the kimono by ushering it into the fashion world — rather than preserving it strictly as a national dress — will likely be set back by the controversy surrounding the exhibition in Boston. One of those is Hiromi Asai, a kimono designer who is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 by July 31 to hold a show at New York Fashion Week next February to show that the kimono can be a modern form of dress that “is beyond cultural and ethnic boundaries.”

Okazaki is also concerned that the industry will suffer if Americans are scared to wear kimono lest they are accused of being racist.

“Absolutely no one (interviewed for the book) found Westerners wearing kimonos to be remotely offensive,” Okazaki tells The Japan Times. “(They) all gave me interviews because they wanted people overseas to share this culture.”

  • GBR48

    Us Brits are supposed to be ‘whinging poms’, (a stereotype I find amusing, often correct and am not bothered by) but nobody whines and moans like a politically correct American, trying to ban anything they don’t agree with and overwrite, abolish or criminalise history-their own and everyone else’s. Flags, kimonos, whatever. Don’t these people have jobs to go to?

    A stereotype isn’t going to kill you and neither is a bit of retro orientalism or dressing-up. They’ll be banning cos-playing next, for anyone who doesn’t have a Japanese passport. PC Nazis: Vile people, sucking all the joy out of life like self-righteous little vampires.

    Guns do kill people though, but Americans still seem to love them.

    The United States is increasingly becoming a place to avoid and ignore. Full of strident people yelling at you to live your lives within strict politically correct boundaries that they will helpfully define for you according to their own whims.

    To hell with them. You want to wear a kimono, you wear one.

    #KimonoPride #IgnoreSelfRighteousAmericans

    • gatekeeper96740

      Thank you for the voice of sanity and reason in a world gone mad.
      It’s not all Americans that are screaming about this “culturally appropriating” nonsense, just the idiotic,loudmouth liberals,whom the Media are in cahoots with esp under Oblunder in the WH.

      • GBR48

        I’m sure these people only make up a small minority of the population of the US, but too often they are being pandered to, giving them undue credibility.

        You might be surprised at how many of the people typically classified in a derogatory manner in the US as ‘liberals’ (which would no doubt include me), hate this sort of thing as much as the political right do. When it crops up, it is usually a shrill, self-righteous vocal minority, whose sole aim in life appears to be to ban any activity that they have a problem with. Social media has created a global bandwagon for any idiot who can click a mouse to unthinkingly jump upon.

        Investing harmless cultural activities, objects, flags, wearing kimonos, whatever with negative associations, saying they are inherently racist or sexist, and then condemning them in consequence is uncritical scapegoating: witch-hunt politics. The adoption of fascist tactics in the name of political correctness. It is counter-productive to any left-wing, progressive or liberal cause, brings the entire movement into disrepute and polarises society. Worst of all, it deflects attention from the issues themselves, and damages sincere attempts to counteract them.

        Racism, sexism, homophobia and all such abusive injustices are vile when encountered in society, but there are better ways to tackle them than a puritanical attempt to condemn simple pleasures as abusive political acts, whilst slowly sucking all the joy out of life.

        Or to put it another way: These people are self-righteous idiots attempting to support a just cause in a stupid, self-defeating way that damages society, and they should be ignored.

      • kayumochi

        I lived in Japan almost 20 years before returning to the States. Not only am I baffled over this kimono issue but am even more baffled over these “self-righteous idiots” you reference. I mean, who are they? Where are they? I never actually meet one in person. Yet they seem to dominate the internet and social media. I suspect they are much like the Wizard of Oz, some sad, insignificant little man somewhere behind a curtain blathering way in impotence …

      • oliverclark

        It’s not all liberals. Its a type called SJWs. Its like how the tea party isn’t all republicans.

    • Alex V

      Ahhh! Nothing like a rant against self-righteous Americans from a self-righteous British blowhard.

      • Rebecca

        Nah. The biggest whingers are, in fact, Australian men. And they are the ones most likely to be found whinging about supposedly whinging Poms – amongst the legion of other things they continuously whinge about.

      • Jeffrey

        Hardly. He’s spot on. The museum, rather than knuckling under to what sounds like precious little chatter, should have had the protesters escorted out of the museum as a nuisance.

        Our local Japanese cultural center has an open house during O-bon every year. Trying on a kimono is one of the yearly features along with the whole spectrum of prominent Japanese cultural touchstones – karate, kodo, shamisen, bon odori, bento’s for sale, bonsai, etc., etc.

        Of course kimono is exotic because it’s the traditional dress of a different culture and one of increasing rarity even in Japan except on certain occasions.

      • zer0_0zor0

        But you see that’s the point.

        Whereas Japan has a plethora of vivid cultural traditions that are still kicking (some barely), what can you point to that the British have, aside from a couple of sports?

        The Brits are probably called “poms” because of the decorations associated with their “pomp and ceremony”, which would appear to derive from a vacuous self-congratulatory celebration of their subjecting other peoples during the British Empire.

        Kimono are only exotic to those not familiar with Japanese culture. Once you start studying the culture, the motifs start to make sense in a register beyond the merely impressionistic.

  • Al_Martinez

    Two points:

    1) It should be noted that this group protesting the exhibition in Boston is a tiny, insignificant collection of non-Japanese hotheads with inferiority complexes. The press gave them way more attention than they deserved and the Museum caved too easily.

    2) Wearing a kimono is UNCOMFORTABLE. This is probably the biggest reason for its decline.

    • Mary Witt

      I want to say that kimono is Comfortable. More comfortable than the other dress, If you felt uncomfortable, you did not experience the correct method to wear kimono. It’s your bias.

      • Al_Martinez

        I’ve never worn a kimono. But my Japanese wife–who knows how to wear one properly–has on many occasions worn a “real” kimono (not the yukata many females wear to the fireworks show) and always complains that they are uncomfortable to wear for more than a couple of hours. I guess “comfortable” is a subjective term.

      • Mary Witt

        I must say that people who claims about that kimono is uncomfortable don’t wear kimono or even yukata properly.
        Of course, comfortable is subjective, but I guess “uncomfortable” is also subjective.

      • RaeRae

        Some people also find corsets comfortable or uncomfortable. I think it depends on your personal preferences as well as your expectations of physical movement. If you’re wanting to be flexible then kimono will be uncomfortable. If you don’t mind walking/sitting/moving a little stiffer than you’ll probably be fine in kimono.

      • velvetnitemare

        Maybe she’s tying the obi too tight? It’s supposed to give support and to close the garnment, not asphyxiate it’s wearer. It’s a hell of a more comfortable garnment than say… a skirt and a blouse. It sounds weird, but if worn properly the kimono won’t open and you can walk safely knowning nothing will show, please then sitting down you will have more back support. I guess, as you said, that it depends on what comfortable means to the person. Hehe.

      • Sacha Salvatore Morgese

        God, all my Japanese friends, especially girls, COMPLAIN A LOT that with a kimono is really hard to walk and it’s a pain in the back to put it on. Who’s biased? Them?

      • Mary Witt

        You say “All of your Japanese friends”.. Really? I know some complain about it, but I always tell them how to wear kimono properly. Then they are surprised that kimono feels very nice. ALL of your Japanese friends should know how to wear kimono properly…. Always, “ALL” is fake.

      • Jane Beckman

        I wear kimono regularly (gaijin that I am) and don’t find it any more trouble than wearing heels and panty hose. But I tend to wear it more like the 19th century Japanese did, than the ritualized version of post-WWII Japan. (I also wear yukata.) I admit I prefer pre-tied obi or men’s-style obi, but I don’t have family member to help tie it. :-) But I am also known to wear corsets. Your mileage may vary.
        BTW, I’ve trained Japanese friends in how to wear kimono, just as some Japanese grannies trained me.

      • Jeffrey

        I’ll have to let my wife know that. I guess she’s been wearing them wrong for the last 40 years.

      • Jane Beckman

        You might be interested in reading Liza Dalby’s book on kimono. Being trained by geisha, she wears them more like a “professional” than those who wear them occasionally, kimono-school style. Remember, people had to live and work in kimono for centuries.

      • Jeffrey

        Actually, no. People did not live and work in kimono for centuries, at least not the various formal kimono that survive today and are descents of those that became fashionable in the Edo period.

        Geisha and maiko may still live and work in kimono, as do some men and women in various traditional pursuits, but they’d hardly be wearing what a shop girl, waitress or petty merchant would have worn during the Edo or even Meiji eras and laborers and farm folk (the majority of the population until the early 20th century) didn’t wear them at all. Further, prior to the Edo period, kimono was a looser affair without an obi and might not be even recognized as the progenitor of the modern kimono.

        People’s ideas of what historic Japan looked like are too often shaped by the costume dramas from television and movies set mostly in the mid to late Edo period.

    • Katrina

      I collect and wear kimono. I try to wear them once or twice a month. I concede that they are not comfortable at first and they do take getting used so, but westerners are used to clothing that allows us to move freely and quickly. We wear minimal amounts of layers unless it’s in a region that experiences colder winters. Kimono requires 2-4 few layers, plus various ties and ribbons that keep everything in place, then add the 18 ft long obi on top of that…I can see how first time wearers would say it’s uncomfortable. I am accustomed to them and a full say in one is still tiring, though I can walk just fine (even chase my dogs!) while wearing one.

    • velvetnitemare

      It’s not uncomfortable, at least not if worn right. And it also depends on your activities and what type of kimono you’re wearing. You’re not gonna go out and play with a full-blown formal furisode get up are you?

    • CHWolfenbloode

      Comfort is subjective. For example, I find wearing traditional stiff starched collars comfortable whilst others find them not so. I also find jeans uncomfortable but many find them to be very comfortable.

      Anyways, there are many kinds of kimono, not just the formal stiff type you are referring to, each with a different level of use and intent, and comfort. Saying that it is the biggest reason why there is a decline in kimono wearing based on one style being uncomfortable is like saying that because white tie and tails is uncomfortable to wear therefore there is a decline in suit wearing in general.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Good article!

    The design and motifs on kimono are culturally specific, and therein lies part of the problem.

    While there should be no problem with women, which are the specific focus here, of trying out a kimono, when taken out of their native cultural context, they become creatures of the culture in which they have been appropriated, to a certain extent.

    • gatekeeper96740

      To pc for me, “culturally appropriated ” are we now banning the wearing certain clothes based on race and geography? That would be MORE liberal idiocy.
      Should we start screaming the world can’t wear blue jeans because it’s culturally appropriated from cowboys?
      Please Japan, don’t listen to anything American leftists have to say,the koolaid is now spiked with crack!

      • DA

        American leftists? Did you even read the article?

      • gatekeeper96740

        Yes I did. Where do think these idiotic ideas come from? The left.

        Now want to ban certain hair styles from other races because they are from the black culture. The left is constant WHINERS!
        Whites wearing corn rows are offensive screams Huffpo.
        This by some woman who was using straightener on her hair and it was cut in a page boy style.

      • R0ninX3ph

        The right has some pretty idiotic ideas too, it isnt limited to the left.

      • gatekeeper96740

        Example ??
        Small Govt?
        Follow the rule of law as put forth in the Constitution???
        No Debt??
        Those kinds of crazy ideas

      • JS

        Theocracy, tax breaks for the super rich, bigotry, shafting veterans that they sent off to war.
        Those kinds of crazy ideas.

      • gatekeeper96740

        Theocracy hardly if you understand the Constitution it never was that those are liberal talking points. Tax breaks maybe you should talk to the liberals at FB, Google, Firefox and the other REALLY BIG liberal companies who also are pushing for h1b visas to bring in cheap labor and take American jobs.
        Shafting vets? I would say that is Obama all the way.

      • JS

        I do understand the constitution, and it proscribes making the US a theocracy. Nonetheless, modern-day conservatives think our laws should be dictated by Christianity. Republicans’ proclaimed love of the constitution is nothing but hot air.

        Of course you would say shafting vets is Obama all the way because you are drinking the GOP kool-aid. Republicans have been shafting vets since at least the Dubya years. Just google “republicans vote against veterans” for some examples.

      • gatekeeper96740

        Theocracy means a state run by the church ,what church,the Protestant church, the Catholic Church, none of those churches rule America.The founders had enough of that with the Anglican church they had to pay taxes to keep up. Our founders acknowledge a Creator and Washington in his inaugural address at the end said that those who violated the creator’s laws of right and good should not expect the propitious smiles of heaven.I fully expect with what this country has done recently, that God’s judgment will fall on this country.
        In schools liberals forbid children from saying prayers over their lunch. They will kick a student out if he says a prayer over his lunch. But the Liberals teachers in schools have no problem indoctrinating the children about Islam.They are taking the children to Islamic schools, Islamic mosques,making prayer rugs and doing the El Shahid,which is a prayer of conversion to Islam in their classes. They’ve done it. The Liberals teachers also think its okay to take a child’s lunch away from him if they don’t like what his mother has packed.
        They prefer to have the dog vomit Mrs Obama prescribes. And none of the students I’ve talked to like Mrs Obama’s lunch. But the Liberals have made it a mandate. the Liberals in my state also believe the children in 3rd grade and 5th grade should know how to give a bj and that the anus is a sexual organ they also put in preschool and kindergarten classes the teachers three and five year old how to masturbate.
        The book is on line it’s called It’s Perfectly Normal and it has pictures. Take a look. They tried in Las Vegas and the parents blow up.
        What is this is the liberal obsession with sex?
        They are putting IUD ‘s into young girls without parents permission.
        They are offering sex change operations to children at the age of 15 without parents permission paid for by the taxpayers.The schools have become nothing but indoctrination centers for liberal ideology teaching them about sex,the gay lifestyle, teaching them about cultural relativism and moral relativism. They invite PPH into the classrooms .the people from Planned Parenthood are no different then sales agents from Coca Cola every sales agent from Planned Parenthood estimates that each girl will be getting 325 abortions and abortions are expensive. Abby Johnson used to be the manager for one of the largest Planned Parenthood,she wrote a book.
        PPH would purposely cut down the amount of hormone in the birth control pill so that the girls do get pregnant. Planned Parenthood also delays abortions on the calendar so that they become more expensive. The girls have to come up with five to six thousand dollars for the Abortion. They ARE a multi billion dollar business. Abby Johnson was told by her district manager that nonprofit was a text status not a business model and therefore Abby needed to get her rate of abortions much higher in order to return a decent profit!

        The schools use are using brainwashing techniques, I know, they use them at my university, the Hegelian dialectic, diapraxis, and the Delphi technique.
        All of this was clearly explained by ex KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov in his two videos are online, his area was subversion. He died in ’97 but his videos from the 1980’s describe perfectly what has happened in this country.
        You may want to take a look.
        As to your next point when a bill for military spending is loaded with pork and special projects for liberals of course they’re going to vote it down. if they could have a clean bill with no extra pork in it or no strange projects then maybe they would vote it up.

        In all honesty neither party has been good to our military. By the way, who’s closing all of the bases around the country? Who has tied our militarys arms behind their back with their ridiculous rules of engagement?

        Have you see Drudge this morning another baby parts video. This one the doctor wants enough money to buy a Lamborghini. She says jokingly.

      • zer0_0zor0

        Your mentioning “blue jeans” makes for a good example to illustrate the point.

        Blue jeans are a blue collar work garment not associated with the cultural milieu in which kimono have developed. The world of kimono is sophisticated, and historically varied. During the Edo period, for example, there was a trend to develop louder and more flamboyant patterns than those associated with the more conservative court life in Kyoto.

        At any rate, the thing to compare blue jeans with in Japanese garment would be the jimbe and, to a lesser degree, the samue (temple work garment).

      • gatekeeper96740

        Levi Strauss & Co. created the first blue jeans in 1873, and they
        were made of denim woven at the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, New Hampshire. The cuff was functional in another way, too. Cowboys who spent hours and hours in the saddle found the cuffs handy as storage spaces: they could hold a tobacco pouch or pack of cigarettes, for example. It was a lot easier to reach into your cuff than your saddle bag, and you didn’t have to get off the horse to do it.
        The iconic Blue jeans have a history from 1873 with AMERICAN Cowboys and therefore an American historical item.
        If people have a problem with “culturally appropriating” the Kimono
        by having foreigners wear it then maybe they shouldn’t wear blue jeans
        which would be “culturally appropriating” something from my culture.
        The blue jean esp. Wrangler has always been associated with cowboys!

      • zer0_0zor0

        Right, like I said, work cloths.

        If you don’t address the distinction between work cloths and, shall we say, “dress cloths”, there’s no point in talking.

      • gatekeeper96740

        If you don’t see jeans as iconic American and “a cultural object” then you’re right there REALLY is NO point in talking.After all jeans took off in a movie with James Dean “Rebel without a Cause.” They became a symbol of teen age rebellion and counter cultural.

        I see very few people walking around in jeans working in offices and I see them all over the city streets today by people just having fun.
        But those Kimonoed ladies are heading off to work at various houses in Akasaka and Ginza.

      • zer0_0zor0

        I think that you raise another interesting distinction, one is that in the USA, the right to claim the mantle of “culture” can be claimed by simply wearing work cloths in order to present the image of oneself as someone that is actually working on something (as opposed to engaging in conspicuous consumption, for example), whereas the kimono is a garment that conveys various types of clues as to what the wearer is actually working on or attuned to in life at that point in time.

      • gatekeeper96740

        Have you ever been to a Rock Concert?
        What did they wear?
        What Brand were they?
        Were they torn or brand new?
        All of that sends cultural signals to those who know.
        Did they wear a belt?
        What kind was it?
        Was it a woven belt or leather?
        What kind of buckle was used?
        These are the significant signs of who they are.
        What kind of shoes are they wearing?
        Get it wrong and it may be a cop.
        By the way at a rock concert NO ONE wears wrangler jeans. That’s for cowboys.
        Go to Las Vegas in December for the Famous NFR: the Rodeo they hold and the entire city is awash in wranglers and heavy duty belts with gigantic buckles.
        Not everyone is actually a cowboy. But the are wearing the iconic clothes. You will not see a pair of Levis there.
        You might want to check out Marlin Brando’s movie.

      • gatekeeper96740

        Marlin Brando made the biggest statement in his movie “The Wild Ones.”
        He made denim dangerous and counter cultural.

      • gatekeeper96740

        Sorry Brando’s movie was The Wild One not Ones.
        Google it and see Brando on his motorcycle looking iconic in blue jeans.

  • CHWolfenbloode

    “My advice for anyone wearing kimono is to challenge this rigidity; let’s forget about attending kimono lessons.”

    This I don’t 100% agree with. You’ll put these teachers out of business in the process. Also, one should embrace all forms of kimono, not just either traditional or modern, or at least try and learn appreciate all forms before deciding which form you wish to take up.

    • Jonathan Fields

      No, the teachers deserve to go out of business. The demand for their services is artificial. People just think they need kimono “because Japan.” $200 is considered cheap for a kimono fitting, and lessons can be as much as $600 or $700. Kimonoyas and kitsuke experts make money hand over fist despite the long rumored death of the garment. It’s price gouging justified by culture. I put it in the same camp as apartment reikin and tsukidashi at bars.

      • zer0_0zor0

        Where do you get those numbers? To what do they refer?

        It appears that you are somewhat culturally illiterate with respect to kimono, and I’m not very knowledgeable about them myself.

        Incidentally, the practices of charging reikin and serving tsukidashi are both post-WWII phenomena, as far as I know, and have nothing to do with traditions that have evolved over more than a thousand years.

    • Mariko Iwai

      Agree,,,there’s still a proper and traditional way of wearing it…I think you should start with that.

  • Slam Dunk

    I wish there was an agency or service that gathers people who have nothing going on in their lives together so they can harass each other, and leave people doing important things alone. I hope Hiromi Asai’s project goes well.

    • kimono penguin

      Yes! Why can’t they find each other instead of being complete leeches. Many people are asking “Don’t these people have lives? or work to go to?” seriously, who would employ these halfwits? It is a strange thing that these kinds of people can’t contribute to society so they have to detract from it. If you had something positive to contribute to the world, or at least a job to go to, they wouldn’t have the time and energy to harass people at a museum for half baked causes.

  • Children Of Nephilim

    I love how these “Asians” whom hilariously lump themselves together with Japanese as though they’re “one” (a country that hates other asian nations and considers them inferior for many reasons) dare to try to speak up on Japan’s behalf–HA! I almost choked on my tea as I read that line–what a gag! What utter s##t that goes through the mind’s of people who’ve clearly never picked up a history book or simply don’t know squat about what the majority of Japanese think about non-Japanese Asians. Would they continue to defend the kimono against the “big bad whities” if they knew the Japanese people would sooner spit in their face than they would toward other non-Asian races entering Japan?

    Or perhaps they do know, perhaps the real reason they spoke up was out of bitterness and hate towards Japan, and this was merely a way to stigmatize the Kimono which belonged to the country of their ancestors enemies.

    • Audie Bakerson

      It’s definitely an attempt by mainlanders to supress culture. One of the protesters, Amber Ying, wrote on twitter that she thinks an anti-censorship group took notice because of a “japanese fetishism that’s common with nerd culture #stillinstablocked”

      • If you continue to read Amber Ying (one of the main ringleaders of the protest)’s twitter feed, you’ll also see that she admittedly anti-white. (She shares much in common with #CancelColbert ‘s Suey Park in this respect).

        I suspect the real reason she protested, based on her own writings, was because she hated seeing white people wearing something she considers to be “Asian”.

  • Ralph Mosenez

    If its racist to wear a Kimono ……. something in Japan they gladly let/encourage foreigners to wear or try on as a way to share their culture …… then is must be racist for a non-Irish person to wear a green bowler hat on St. Patrick’s day or any other sort of “Irish” ornament ……. imagine the insult and racism of a non-white person trying on a kilt. Is it insulting for my grandmother to try on a cowboy hat while on a trip to Arizona?

    Relax. Depends on the context and what the person is doing. A foreigner wearing a yukata to a festival in Japan during the summer is not considered an insult to most Japanese people. Sharing an experience and may even be helping to promote it as an article of clothing and not something that is removed from normal life.

    • Rebecca

      I hope those “People who identified as Asian-American” have not dyed their hair blonde, brown or had a perm as they would be appropriating Caucasian style.

  • comslave

    As a frequent traveler to Japan, I found myself repeated encouraged to don local clothing and engage in local customs. The Japanese are very open to engaging and sharing their culture with foreigners.
    The protestors are misguided activists looking desperately for something to be offended by. They have clearly engaged the wrong target as I think all Japanese would think their efforts to be insulting.
    To claim an art form may not tread beyond national or nationality borders is to degrade it. To limit it.
    To put it clearly, to claim that the Japanese may not share the Kimono with the world is racist.

  • Sebastian Mosur

    This line pretty much says all that needs to be said about Japanese culture:

    “The real reason why traditional kimono culture is about to (become) extinct,” wrote avant-garde fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, “is because of its tendency to aspire to ‘perfection’ as a style that does not allow any other foreign item to be added to it. My advice for anyone wearing kimono is to challenge this rigidity; let’s forget about attending kimono lessons.”

    • zer0_0zor0

      It would appear that Yamamoto is completely out of touch with Japanese culture.

  • Joe Lee

    Depends on whether usage of cultural icons such as kimonos could be intepreted as cultural appreciation or appropriation. Maybe having groups of people undergo a seminar or a quick talk by the museum to understand the history and the cultural importance of kimonos would properly put things in perspective? Becomes less touristy as the museum seems to be presenting it.

    • justathought

      EXACTLY. I believe this is the crux of the protesters’ arguments. The museum provided no cultural context about the item being worn.

  • Ostap Bender

    Typical first world problem.

    • Rebecca

      Oh, for the end of this cliched phrase.

  • joeymom

    Do these protesters wear pajamas to bed? Do they know what a “pajama” even IS?

  • Dehydration

    Let’s not forget that the protesters attempted to end MFA Boston’s Kimono Wednesdays, apologize for things they didn’t do and further pressure them to create events teaching the SJW idea of cultural appropriation.

    Oh and that they blocked me when I asked if they wanted an apology as their end-goal.

    And that they’re largely not Japanese at all.

    And that the opening of trade during that very period gave Japanese artists an entire perspective and dimension to work in, along with several new methods of colouring.

    And that shibuya-kei and anime are essentially the same ‘cultural appropriation’. And that those things are fantastic.

  • kayumochi

    There is a photo published in the Boston Globe of three protesters. There you have it – three women with a chip on their shoulders. Meh.

  • Jane Beckman

    I am waiting for the next wave of “orientalism” backlash, with protests against Grauman’s Chinese Theater, for which my father was the decorator/muralist. After all, he was a Finn, who combined Chinese motifs with Art Deco, oh the horror. Raised among his close friends, who were Chinese and Japanese, I thought everyone grew up eating chicken feet and wearing kimono. And that is why I love America, where these things can happen.

    • theonewhogrins

      That’s cool that your father helped with the Chinese Theater. But in the context of this article, it would be like if they were to start offering the ability to take pictures in front of the Chinese Theater in a cheongsam or with a rice paddy hat which would be kinda not so awesome.

  • Hi,
    Thank you for this article, ans specially thanky you to use 3 of my photographies to illustrate your purpose.
    I would be very glad and grateful that you use the right credit on those photographie :
    Now it is written […………….] | PRESTEL PUBLISHING
    And it should be : […………….] | Sebastien LEBEGUE / PRESTEL PUBLISHING

    The 3 photographies are :
    1 – The top page photo (yellow room and blue and red Kimono)
    2 – The front cover of the book KIMONO NOW
    3 – The jumping woman with umbrella and denim Kimono.

    Thank you very much for your understanding.

    Sebastien Lebegue

    • Sophie Knight

      Hi Sebastien,
      Your photos have now been credited!

    • Sophie Knight

      Hi Sebastien,
      Your photos have now been credited!

  • Mariko Iwai

    As Japanese, I am happy to see non-Japanese people enjoying Japanese cultures as well as kimono…I never find it offensive when seeing the paint.

    Actually, it bugs me when seeing a kind of comedy sketch where Japanese cultures are depicted in distorted (or exaggarated) ways but i think such things are rare to be seen nowadays since everyone is fussy about PC.
    It’s a very simple thing which would apply to any kinds of cross-cultual communication not only with Japan but also others; show your respect to diffrent cultures whether you agree with them or not.

  • Paul Martin

    Many non Japanese find the kimonos,etc boring and antiquated…belonging in the drearyness of ancient times !
    Most young Japanese women today prefer the Western lifestyles much to the disdain of the older generation who cannot believe or accept change !

  • justathought

    It’s not a Japanese art exhibit. It’s a French Impressionist exhibit, wherethere was no discussion of the kimono, but of Impressionism. There originally was not even the slightest bit of education of the specific kind of Kimono it was, the fact that it was a Kabuki costume, nothing that acually brought people an understanding of Japanese culture. The event was simply about imitating Camille Monet and being invited to plaster one’s picture all over social media imitating Camille Monet, mostly still clueless about actual Japanese culture.

    • Jeffrey

      I thought it was linked, as well, to the museums huge trove of ukiyo-e, largest in existence outside of Japan, if I’m not mistaken. Doesn’t change a thing, however. The protesters are still idiots that need to find a real social or economic outrage to attack.

      • justathought

        As far as I know, it wasn’t linked specifically /officially to anything else in the museum. I could be wrong, but I’ve read several comments from people who attended the original gallery talk which said there was nothing specifically about Japanese culture mentioned at all. You’re free to have whatever opinion you have about them being “idiots,” but even though I don’t agree with everything in the execution of the protests, I think some valid arguments have been raised about the extent a Museum has the responsibility to educate on and present cross-cultural elements in the appropriate context. Of couse, people differ in their opinions about “appropriate” context. There are very interesting discussions being had all over the internet about important issues in the context of a multi-cultural society. I think the protestors also raise some provocative and relevant points about a seeming lack of Japanese-American and some other Asian-American female narratives in American society , that is, ones in which they are presented in all their complexity and not just stereotyped images. But, unfortunately, many of the protestors, from their comments on the internet, seem to bear venomenous feelings about white people on the whole, reducing them to one big mass of oppressors, hurting their cause a bit.

  • Clayton Forrester

    Good for you!!!

  • R0ninX3ph

    I agree with you, economically Nazism and Fascism are more akin to Socialist policies. But you know that isn’t what I was referring to.

    Cultural/Racial segregation is not a liberal “left” ideal, but you decided to ignore that because it doesnt support your narrative.

    Segregating cultures and claiming one group cannot wear something because it is from another group is not freedom, it is not liberal, it is not left.

    • gatekeeper96740

      The ONLY people screaming about what you can and can’t wear ARE leftist, the cultural appropriation vocabulary is from them and is leftist.
      They are getting their ideas from their idiot liberal professors, the same idiot liberal professors that are drumming White Privileged into their soft brains.

      And everyone knows teachers and professors belong to unions and therefore the same ideological base.
      Chew on that because I KNOW what I am talking about.

      The ONLY thing Liberals are liberal about are SEX and drugs or haven’t you notice!

      They are always screaming racism, sexism, homophobia because they have nothing to offer the American people

      ALL of the stupidity at out school over lunches and the discussions about free range kids.Moochelle and her lunch program.

      All the screaming about tolerance when its only one direction.
      It’s Always liberals telling you how to run your life.
      They make up nonsense about health product and which foods are dangerous.


      Where do you think Hitler got his Eugenics program from?

      The Fabian Socialists again, the left in this country and Sanger was a follower of Madam Blavatsky just like Hitler, they were both new age occultists.

      • R0ninX3ph

        You can rant and rave all you want, but fascism is a far right ideology, national control of industry doesn’t automatically make something socialist, socialism requires that the wealth is then distributed to everyone involved. In Nazi germany that was definitely not the case, just as it wasn’t the case technically in the Soviet Union.

        Wikipedia isn’t a great resource, but even Wikipedia recognises that fascism was completely anti-liberal, anti-communist and anti-conservative and its followers were far right conservatives. AKA Extremists.

        You’re just angry because you want to blame everyone on the left, and you ignored my statement that extremists on boths sides are whackadoodles (probably because you identify as far right thus making you part of the whackadoodle crowd).

        You can continue ranting and raving in response to this post, I will not reply again. Have a nice day, I hope the evil left doesn’t ruin it for you.

  • kayumochi

    America has gotten both better and worse, just like the rest of the world.

  • theonewhogrins

    I wouldn’t really call it racist, but it feels super gimmicky, like they’re getting people to go HEY let’s wear a KIMONO! WOW I’m wearing a KIMONO look at how much cooler and exotic I look!

    I kind of get where they’re coming from, the Asian American protestors (though I don’t think the exhibit should have been shut down). It’s like how at Halloween, you see these “dress as an Asian Geisha” kind of thing. It’s not racism so much as cultural appropriation? It’s more like, if the exhibit was so that people could try it on to admire the kimono and the craft of it, sure. If it was an exhibit of the different beautiful kimonos and an exhibit on the different types of kimonos, maybe. Or if it at least included more information about kimonos in Japanese culture. But instead it’s a Monet painting (which is cool, I like Monet) and from my understanding there was nothing of the sort as far as information about Japanese culture or kimonos, which is kinda disappointing.

    In my mind (and probably the protesters) it’s no different than if the museum had showcased a painting done by someone famous of a native american (or whatever the PC term is now, sorry) and the museum had decided to just be like HEY try on this FEATHERED HEADBAND so you can look like the picture!

    I definitely feel like there’s a way to mindfully share and participate in other cultures without it being offensive or coming off as perpetuating stereotypes of exotic asian cultures. Cause you know what gets annoying? Being told that you’re exotic because you’re asian. Cause that happens sometime in public. I’ve even got asked if I wear kimono regularly at home.

    So please, before you go comparing these protestors, or liberals, or whomever, to Nazis, who literally killed people who were moral and ethnic outliers as well as people who supported them, consider what sort of reasons they have for protesting these things (also consider not comparing them to Nazis). They aren’t protesting for the hell of it. Stereotypes might not kill you, but they wear you down after hearing them over and over.

    • “Stereotypes might not kill you, but they wear you down after hearing them over and over.”

      The protesters are actually drawing a link between Kimono Wednesdays and killing AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) women as well as the deaths of black & brown people. For the first month of their protest they were using #whitesupremacykills hashtag. Last week they carried signs that read “This exhibit perpetuates violence against Black and Brown bodies. We
      stand in solidarity with all marginalized people whose histories have
      been stolen by institutions like the MFA.”

      I think part of the reason a lot of people can’t take them seriously is their conflation of Asian American issues with the Black Lives Matter movement. Although Asian Americans have problems, as a group our issues are nowhere near as serious as the problems that black (and Latino and Arab) people face. Depending on where they live some Asian Americans may have experiences closer to black/brown experience but most of the protesters appear to be either East Asian descent or white.

      I don’t think it’s right that people are comparing them with Nazis but their behavior has been extremist. I’ve talked to many Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans who completely disagree with their charges against the MFA and can’t understand what they’re talking about.

      It’s difficult for me to imagine that a Native American tribe would donate a headdress to a museum for the purpose of cultural sharing but if they did, I would hope their wishes would be respected. I don’t think that trying on a kimono is the same as wearing a headdress though. Kimono are clothes. Many Japanese people have pointed this out. They don’t hold any sacred spiritual importance (especially not these uchikake which are replicas of a costume – probably a kabuki performed at the Exposition universelle de 1867). As others have pointed out Japan is pretty into importing cosplay and may see this event as fitting in with that. We also do kimono try-on for fun at Japanese and Japanese American events with no deep history lesson involved for those who are non-Japanese (often a majority of the people queuing up to get dressed up and take a photo). So I think if the protesters were serious about this they should also protest those events. Their main objection seems to be that the MFA has white staff and a lot of white museumgoers and they assume a level of ignorance among all museumsgoers which may not be correct.

  • Brian Mapleton

    Everything crumbled down in my mind and my life was torn apart but the hope that was inspired by Madonna’s 1997 single “Nothing Really Matters” changed my destiny for the right way. I realize my own species of people have turned against me, I know you will not believe my words but nobody likes me on the internet these days and it is all because of China’s interconnection for the first time with the INTER-NET. We are codes of language on the sticky threads of the mechanical spider that is at the center of the INTERNET SUPER-HIGHWAY. I’m sorry my beloved Japan, if I could offer more I would cherish the chance but destiny has taken me to this point in time but I hope you have a great year Japan, don’t let the negative historical events get you all down ….

  • basedgod

    Asian Americans are officially Gibs me dats.

  • Manisha Purwaha

    This doesn’t sound right. Next time when a Japanese asks me if they can wear my country’s clothes I am going to feed them the same BS instead of accepting them culturally.

  • Their incompetency is stunning in this regard. Museums have had to deal with protesters who have demanded censorship and changes to exhibits since as long as I can remember.

    And these old-school outraged-at-the-museum-folk didn’t just try to censor, they tried to damage works of art too.

    Back in my day, the pro-censorship people tended to be religious and they protested things like nudity or using one of their religious systems or figures for art in a way they did not approve of.

    I guess in the 21st century, these puritan zealots and religious fundamentalists have been replaced by social justice warriors.

    Anyway, my point is: the museum should have already had policies to deal with this sort of protest, as protesting museums and its exhibits is nothing new.

    The MFA staff is in need of remedial training imo.