Kimonos Are Not Only For Japanese Purists

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wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Mr Selfridge.
I was watching that television show (ITV, UK) and noticed a lovely furisode kimono in the window display. The picture is poor quality, as it is a screenshot from the ITV iPlayer and they reduce quality for streaming but it does let you see the kimono. The show stars Jeremy Piven as Mr Selfridge, the man who opened the store Selfridges that still exists in London. He is good in it, just as he was very good in his role in Entourage.

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Are kimonos only for the purists?
I read a comment on Reddit the other day, in which a Japanese woman said she felt that only Japanese people should wear kimonos and only those who applied all the strict Japanese rules about how they are worn, with obi etc., and wearing the correct kimono for the occasion and person’s age. She felt that no one other than a purist/traditionalist should be allowed to wear them, particularly those wearing them as house robes; she even said it was offensive (her word) to see the pictures of Rita Ora wearing one of my kimonos or to see anyone wearing one as a robe like that. The woman who said this is the only  person I have come across to say this, all other people I have spoken with or read comments by, including many Japanese people, do not think that way at all, in fact, quite the contrary. Needless to say I did not agree with her. To me, what she said is exactly the same idea as saying that women should not wear trousers because they were originally designed only for men to wear.
I felt she should also bear in mind that haori were originally meant to be worn only  by men but, many years ago, geisha broke that rule and started wearing these men’s jackets, after which, they became popular among other women and only then did haori start to be made specifically for women, so you now get many women wearing them. If that rule had not been broken, the women of Japan would not have haori to wear over their kimonos. If that rule could be broken in Japan, there is no reason not to break other kimono wearing traditions, especially when they are worn in The West, where kimonos are not worn as day to day, outdoor clothing and haoris not worn over them.
Since kimonos are rarely worn the same way in The West as they are in Japan, with obi or as outdoor clothes, it seems very pedantic to think that they should not therefore be worn there at all or that the Japanese traditional rules, dictating the styles and patterns for certain ages or occasions, should be adhered to by absolutely everyone who chooses to own and wear one either in or out of in Japan.
As you can see in the two pictures below, this Japanese man, in Japan, wears a kimonos with braces on top, attached to the obi, giving the traditional kimono wearing a slightly more contemporary look (photos from Akira Times). If Japanese people like him may break the rules and do that, why may others not just wear a beautiful kimono as a house robe, regardless of tradition? Why restrict them to only those who wear them the traditional way, with obi, and applying the strict age, occasion and colour rules?

The woman also thought that, if worn as a robe, it was appalling that it meant that the kimono would be worn frequently and the silk would touch the skin and therefore need cleaned more frequently than one that was rarely worn and only worn the traditional way on top of a naga-juban, so not touching the skin. She seemed to insist that they only be cleaned using the araihari method, which is a traditional one of completely dismantling the garment, cleaning the individual pieces, then remaking it, traditional method that resulted in rarely cleaning them, whereas I believe that careful dry cleaning is an acceptable alternative for a kimono that is used frequently as a robe.
Most vintage kimonos would become nothing more than moth food or be cut up and destroyed or would just sit in a box and never see the light of day and be appreciated if many were not re-purposed as robes or worn in some other non traditional way. Their being worn has to be a good thing, regardless of how they are worn, rather than all of them being hidden away, unappreciated for the majority of the time simply so they don’t get worn out or dirty.

Without a doubt, that woman would not approve of haori being worn in The West over yofuku (clothing that is not traditionally Japanese), such as you can see in the picture below. What a loss that would be. The haori is such a gem when worn with western world clothing.

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Even in Japan nowadays, young people are sometimes seen to be wearing kimonos in deliberately non-traditional ways. The traditional rules are fine for kimono purists but I do not believe it is fine to say that they may only be worn by the purists and in the ways the purists dictate. I am very glad the old kimono rules are still maintained in Japan by some, whom I admire for doing it and keeping those traditions alive, but that should not be allowed to stop their use by those who choose to not follow those rules. I really do admire any person who abides by all the strict kimono wearing rules in Japan but do not feel they should be reserved only for them. Kimonos are clothing, not religion, not part of only some private club, so should be worn and enjoyed whatever way one chooses, as long as they are worn and loved and their beauty seen and enjoyed.

No doubt she would be utterly horrified to see my sister wearing a girl’s kimono open over western clothes, as a pretty evening coat, or, as you can see below, my daughter wearing this child’s antique kimono as a dress.

kabukiast1

There is room for both purists and non-purists to wear wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing). It does not matter how one chooses to enjoy wearing it, it only matters that one does choose to do it and that their beauty and the work of the skilled Japanese artisans can be seen and appreciated.

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Cable companies want to slow down (and break!) your favorite sites, all so they can profit. What we have now will slow to a crawl, sites taking forever to load unless we pay a premium to get extra speed. This is what cable companies are pushing the government to give them.

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You can also check out my www.wafuku.co.uk website, providing vintage & antique Japanese kimonos & collectables.

www.wafuku.co.uk

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One of my kimonos being modelled by the singer Rita Ora

haorisweeritao

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12 comments

  1. I do so agree with you, I love to wear my haori’s over trousers and even with jeans and on occasion also wear one of my kimono on summer evenings, much as I love the beautiful obi I find them far too restricting so usually wear a more slender belt!
    Jackie

    1. Your commentary does not relate at all to what I wrote. What I wrote does not relate to your commentary. They are entirely different things.

      1. Actually the person’s comment does relate to the article you wrote!

        Whether or not you believe it’s offensive, it’s actually a very good question to bring up when asking yourself whether wearing traditional kimonos in a more modern style is cultural appropriation or appreciation!

        I’m unsure of whether or not you know the difference (and if you do please don’t take it as offense) but appropriation is when someone from a different culture decides to “take” or “borrow” certain parts of another’s culture with a disregard to the actual culture. For example, a woman decides to wear a cheongsam, because she wants to look like an azn geisha gurl for halloween. And obviously, cheongsams are from China and geisha’s are from Japan. But this halloween lady example doesn’t know or doesn’t care to try and find out and so makes a gross parody of TWO cultures instead of showing an appreciation of either. (This is also called yellowface!)

        When you decide to wear a kimono is it because you enjoy and appreciate the history of the kimono or is it because you just want to look like a geisha girl for halloween? Are you wearing a kimono to a Japanese festival? Are you non-Japanese and going to a Japanese festival and want to participate, but are unsure of whether or not you can wear a kimono? You can pose the question in many different ways and in many different settings, but it always boils down to “Can I wear this or is it inappropriate?” There are varying degrees of what would be appropriate (I doubt someone will go out to the mall in a 19th century Victorian gown, corset and all though) and I think you really could have touched on that in this article.

        TLDR (this part); Questioning whether something is cultural appropriation or appreciation is pretty necessary when it comes to partaking (or stealing lmao) from culture that is not your own.

        You do have an impressive knowledge of kimonos and you bring up fabulous points in your article; the upcycling and modernization of kimonos is what keeps it in style! There are many Japanese fashions and brands that bring kimono as influences. I feel like your article, however, have lack of evidence. Sure, your daughter is wearing a kimono over her clothes out to the mall or whatever, and that dude is wearing a traditional kimono correctly, but what about how kimonos are worn during special events in Japan or how people wear yukata during summer festivals? What about how there is a growing trend of young adults wearing kimono or parts of a kimono as part of their fashion style to acknowledge both pop culture and history? What about kimono influences in other parts of the world? What are some good examples and some bad examples?

        You don’t have to make this article into a 20 page dissertation on the modernization of kimonos, but bringing up some different points and bringing in more concrete evidence would have been very enjoyable to read instead of “look see this is why we can do the thing.”

        It also seems like you decided to disregard the other person’s suggestion to read the blog. That’s also a bit of a shame, because the blog does discuss the same thing that your article does and would have given you some more insight to the opposing party.

        TLDR (again); Questioning whether something is cultural appropriation or appreciation and *researching* the subject at hand is preeetttyyyyyy necessary when it comes to deciding to partake from a culture that is not your own.

        To put a different spin on it; you believe that wearing kimonos in a nontraditional/modernized way is okay! But to someone else who does not know you or know that you have extensive knowledge on kimonos might see you (or your daughter or whoever IDC who it is) on the street and feel offended, thinking that you are just wearing it just because “it looks cool.” They might feel disrespected, because they think that you are just taking whatever part of the culture you like instead of remembering that every culture (and subculture) is multifaceted. There are more reasons, but my comment is already very long, but I hope you get the gist of it.

        I also realize this article was written last year and that your opinions may have changed, but you know what, dude? Even if you think that you *know* you are right in your stance, it’s good to be able to see the opposing side’s view. You’re not just shitting your opinions out of ur ass or assblasting the person who you think is wrong.

        I also understand that the UK is made up of many different types of white, but there are minorities who live there too. Who happen to be Japanese. So keep in mind that a Japanese person who is also a citizen of like, Britain idk, could also see the casual wear of kimono or anything of that sort as disrespect/racism/yellow face. Or could be very excited about how much you know about kimonos!

        “What the fuck do you know, Wordy Woman on the Internet! !” I’m half Japanese and half Korean born and raised in America trying to find peace and acceptance in to all three cultures I happen to grow up with along with battling racism (both subtle and not subtle) as well as fetishization of my being, because of who I am. I am one of many, but I find that I’m not the only one who feels that a non-Japanese person wearing a kimono for an arbitrary or superficial reason is offensive and disrespectful. But you know? I get excited and happy when I see and meet people who genuinely enjoy the cultures that I came from.

        So please don’t dismiss someone’s opinion just because it seems irrelevant or stupid. Take the time to read the comments and blogs (like mine!) because you might get some insight from them.

        Also it feels like you’re completely dismissive of how Japanese people both in Japan and in the UK feel about nontraditional ways of wearing a kimono and whether or not cultural appropriation and appreciation is relevant to your post and I think it would be prudent to rectify that. 🙂 Thanks. Becky! 🙂

      2. I’m afraid I cannot agree. As a Scot, I would think it absurd to object to a non-Scottish man wearing a kilt, just as I think it absurd for anyone to object to a non-Chinese wearing a cheongsam or a non-Japanese wearing a kimono, a non-native American wearing moccasins or a non-Korean wearing an ao-dai etc.

  2. Actually the person’s comment does relate to the article you wrote!

    Whether or not you believe it’s offensive, it’s actually a very good question to bring up when asking yourself whether wearing traditional kimonos in a more modern style is cultural appropriation or appreciation!

    I’m unsure of whether or not you know the difference (and if you do please don’t take it as offense) but appropriation is when someone from a different culture decides to “take” or “borrow” certain parts of another’s culture with a disregard to the actual culture. For example, a woman decides to wear a cheongsam, because she wants to look like an azn geisha gurl for halloween. And obviously, cheongsams are from China and geisha’s are from Japan. But this halloween lady example doesn’t know or doesn’t care to try and find out and so makes a gross parody of TWO cultures instead of showing an appreciation of either. (This is also called yellowface!)

    When you decide to wear a kimono is it because you enjoy and appreciate the history of the kimono or is it because you just want to look like a geisha girl for halloween? Are you wearing a kimono to a Japanese festival? Are you non-Japanese and going to a Japanese festival and want to participate, but are unsure of whether or not you can wear a kimono? You can pose the question in many different ways and in many different settings, but it always boils down to “Can I wear this or is it inappropriate?” There are varying degrees of what would be appropriate (I doubt someone will go out to the mall in a 19th century Victorian gown, corset and all though) and I think you really could have touched on that in this article.

    TLDR (this part); Questioning whether something is cultural appropriation or appreciation is pretty necessary when it comes to partaking (or stealing lmao) from culture that is not your own.

    You do have an impressive knowledge of kimonos and you bring up fabulous points in your article; the upcycling and modernization of kimonos is what keeps it in style! There are many Japanese fashions and brands that bring kimono as influences. I feel like your article, however, have lack of evidence. Sure, your daughter is wearing a kimono over her clothes out to the mall or whatever, and that dude is wearing a traditional kimono correctly, but what about how kimonos are worn during special events in Japan or how people wear yukata during summer festivals? What about how there is a growing trend of young adults wearing kimono or parts of a kimono as part of their fashion style to acknowledge both pop culture and history? What about kimono influences in other parts of the world? What are some good examples and some bad examples?

    You don’t have to make this article into a 20 page dissertation on the modernization of kimonos, but bringing up some different points and bringing in more concrete evidence would have been very enjoyable to read instead of “look see this is why we can do the thing.”

    It also seems like you decided to disregard the other person’s suggestion to read the blog. That’s also a bit of a shame, because the blog does discuss the same thing that your article does and would have given you some more insight to the opposing party.

    TLDR (again); Questioning whether something is cultural appropriation or appreciation and *researching* the subject at hand is preeetttyyyyyy necessary when it comes to deciding to partake from a culture that is not your own.

    To put a different spin on it; you believe that wearing kimonos in a nontraditional/modernized way is okay! But to someone else who does not know you or know that you have extensive knowledge on kimonos might see you (or your daughter or whoever IDC who it is) on the street and feel offended, thinking that you are just wearing it just because “it looks cool.” They might feel disrespected, because they think that you are just taking whatever part of the culture you like instead of remembering that every culture (and subculture) is multifaceted. There are more reasons, but my comment is already very long, but I hope you get the gist of it.

    I also realize this article was written last year and that your opinions may have changed, but you know what, dude? Even if you think that you *know* you are right in your stance, it’s good to be able to see the opposing side’s view. You’re not just shitting your opinions out of ur ass or assblasting the person who you think is wrong.

    I also understand that the UK is made up of many different types of white, but there are minorities who live there too. Who happen to be Japanese. So keep in mind that a Japanese person who is also a citizen of like, Britain idk, could also see the casual wear of kimono or anything of that sort as disrespect/racism/yellow face. Or could be very excited about how much you know about kimonos!

    “What the fuck do you know, Wordy Woman on the Internet! !” I’m half Japanese and half Korean born and raised in America trying to find peace and acceptance in to all three cultures I happen to grow up with along with battling racism (both subtle and not subtle) as well as fetishization of my being, because of who I am. I am one of many, but I find that I’m not the only one who feels that a non-Japanese person wearing a kimono for an arbitrary or superficial reason is offensive and disrespectful. But you know? I get excited and happy when I see and meet people who genuinely enjoy the cultures that I came from.

    So please don’t dismiss someone’s opinion just because it seems irrelevant or stupid. Take the time to read the comments and blogs (like mine!) because you might get some insight from them.

    Also it feels like you’re completely dismissive of how Japanese people both in Japan and in the UK feel about nontraditional ways of wearing a kimono and whether or not cultural appropriation and appreciation is relevant to your post and I think it would be prudent to rectify that. 🙂 Thanks. Becky! 🙂

  3. As a person of Japanese descent: My late father was from Kyoto and actually apprenticed in the kimono making business before he met my mother (also of Japanese descent – Nisei) and followed her back to Vancouver, Canada.

    The only concern that I have is someone thinking that they can appropriate a family crest “Kamon” and wear it or have it displayed around the house like an art piece. It would be like me turning around and grabbing a kilt or a coat-of-arms from a European house just because it “looks cool”. My wife’s family Lee has a coat-of-arms. But I would never personally wear it even at a Celtic festival, but that’s just my personal take on the whole heraldry thing and perhaps a fellow Lee family member (however distant) may say different that since I’m married to a Lee, that he/she would welcome me wearing it. But until such time as they say so, I wouldn’t. To me, the “kamon” is like the European family coat of arms and deserves the same level of respect. Then again, the people in my family 近森 in Kyoto and Kochi were always old-fashioned – Respect was key…never assume that you have the right to anyone’s family items without asking.

    My mother has never made any attempts to teach me about my Japanese heritage and I am struggling to find out about it. As I grow older (I’m in my late 40s), heritage has become more and more important.

    My wife is Irish-American and I am a Canadian of Japanese descent. (My father emigrated to Canada from Kyoto in 1956) and I have NO problem at all in the seeing my wife wear a montsuki bearing my family crest. The reason why: She is married to me and is a member of my family and as such she has that right to do so. And she also has the right to wear my family’s montsuki. End of discussion there…PERIOD!

    I have no problem with foreigners wearing yukata or kimono (sans the mon – unless they are married into a Japanese family) provided that they do so with respect in the vein of the Scottish kilt.

    Have fun wearing the kimono. I’d give anything to have one…and to actually know what my family’s crest is. I showed my wife just exactly how many layers goes into a Japanese female’s kimono and we both wondered how the heck anyone can get into that without help.

    The reason that my wife and I want our family crest is to have a family portrait done wearing our montsuki. My mother and father had one done when they married back in Kyoto during the 50s when she went over to Japan at Keio University. (Evidently, she did a lot more than studying.) As did my relatives…and I figured that I need to carry on the family tradition of the “family portrait.” It is after all my family’s heritage.

    Heck I wish I could find my family swords or have a Japanese swordsmith make a replica of them. As a part of the diaspora, you feel kind of lost without some knowledge of your heritage.

    As an addendum to this: As a Japanese-Canadian (a diaspora) my view is very dim towards someone pulling the “Racism” and “Because of the Internment” card when it comes to the wearing of kimono by Non-Japanese: uncles were spat on and beaten up by racist bullies in the 30s at school and hakujin would think nothing throwing a rock through a window of a house or a molotov cocktail through the window of a Japanese-owned business. My mother, uncles and maternal grandparents were interned in Slocan, British Columbia during WWII and lost everything. They had to build their life back up after the war. THAT is the ugly head of RACISM.

    What racism is not, is the genuine admiration of Japanese culture and wanting to try on Japanese traditional garb. And I can’t get the mind-set of those who think that someone trying on a Japanese yukata or kimono is racist or learning about Japanese culture. It makes me shake my head. Hell, I’m of Japanese descent and I know absolutely next to nothing about my heritage. Would my trying to learn Japanese or wanting to own a piece of my own family history be considered RACIST?!! C’mon!

    The kimono is just traditional garb, a piece of clothing with no other significance than your ordinary shirt, pants and shoes. When it does become significant is when you put a kamon on there. The kamon should be held in the same view as a coat of arms from the European countries and my family in Japan would be raising eyebrows if they saw someone who they didn’t know wearing the Chikamori kamon on their kimono when they had no relation to the family. But then again, that may just be Kochi-ken and their attitudes. Just like the Scots aren’t too keen on having their kilt/sporran and family crests being disrespected, my family would be rather put-out by seeing our family crest disrespected and probably prefer that the wearing of our “kamon” be left to those Japanese and non-Japanese who have married into our actual family.

    1. The thing about kamon is that they are not confined to any one family, in fact a family may use one that their family has used in the past or may use any other one they prefer. A woman can take on her husband’s kamon or keep her own family’s one or use any she prefers. With very, very few exceptions, any mon can be used by any person, so a non-Japanese person displaying a mon does not really show disrespect since mon are not confined to any specific family. It is not the same as a Western coat of Arms, which is specific to only one family line, no two entierly separate families can have the same one, whereas thousands of completely separate families can have the same mon, just as two brothers could choose different mon from each other. Kamon just means, family mon, a mon the family has chosen to use, perhaps for many generations or perhaps a recent selection. However the mon that they choose to use as their kamon is not bound to any one family.

      Mon are also used in all areas of design in Japan, a very popular motif, for example, an obi with a pattern of many different mon, a noren, a yukata with mixed mon as a repeat design. Mon aren’t only used as kamon, mon are decorative motifs as well, so no disrespect is read into it being used on a decorative item within Japan or in any other country.

      We Scots have no objections to anyone of any nationality using a kilt, a sporran or dirk etc. purely as a decorative display item and have no objections to anyone wearing a kilt or sporran. We don’t see it as disrespectful. We generally see it as a compliment if people like them enough to do that, not as cultural appropriation nor as an insult.

  4. Japanese culture takes what it likes from other countries and modifies it, often drastically, to suit itself. So it’s hypocritical, or incredibly obtuse, to insist that other cultures shouldn’t do the exact same thing.

    1. All cultures adopt things from other cultures. In fairness, though, I have to say that I have not come across any Japanese person complaining about cultural appropriation, it has only been my fellow Westerners.
      Japan has provided many, many great things that the rest of the world has adopted.

      1. Well, I’m glad to hear the ‘cultural appropriation’ nonsense hasn’t infected Japan. Who copies whom? This is a different but similar thing that comes up a lot. We all can get a bit prickly when we see something we’ve identified with in our own culture being copied and modified by another, but over the years I’ve seen so many examples both ways that I’ve accepted the reality…that cultural items and practices, even ways of thinking, jump around and morph. Both Japan and America have strong cultures that can survive any amount of being borrowed from. Purists are puritanical bores.

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