Kimono and Cultural Appropriation: The Positive Side of Appropriation and Misapplication of Fashion 

A Look into the Kimono Wednesday Controversy at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

By Kaori Nakano

(Special thanks to Ms.Nikki Tsukamoto Kininmonth, and Prof.Shaun ODwyer, for the English version)

Between the summer and fall of 2015, “cultural appropriation” became somewhat of a buzzword in fashion news abroad.

It all began in July when the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was forced to cancel their “Kimono Wednesdays“ kimono try-on event, due to public criticism. The event was meant to celebrate the homecoming of a painting featured in the Japan leg of a traveling exhibition titled “Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan”.

That painting, which was the center of the scandal, was Claude Monet’s La Japonaise, in which his wife, dressed in a bright red uchikake -a kimono robe usually reserved for bridal costumes- turns around to strike a pose toward the viewer. The weekly event was intended to attract visitors by offering patrons a chance to wear some similarly exquisite uchikake robes and pose in front of the painting for photos. Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, which had originally provided the uchikake to be tried on by patrons of the “Looking East” exhibition in Japan, had donated them to the Boston MFA to use and display as it liked.

It seemed like an event fit for the social media age; “try it on, take a selfie, upload and share.” But the event attracted guests of a rather unexpected kind – young and angry Asian American protestors bearing placards with slogans like “This is offensive to Asians” and “Cultural Appropriation”. Their message was also spread through fierce social media protests: Asian culture should not be stolen or superficially appropriated by a white supremacist culture.

On July 7, the BBC and New York Times reported the MFA’s announcement that it was cancelling the kimono try-ons (though Kimono Wednesdays continued). A new protest subsequently erupted, this time against the cancellation.

The counter protestors’ message in a nutshell was this: because very few Japanese were taking part in the original protests, the protestors were using the event as an opportunity to soapbox their views on Asian American identity. The counter protestors insisted that accusing Kimono Wednesdays of being a “white supremacist approach discriminating against Asians” was misguided, as the event had been organized through cooperation between Japanese and American parties, as a cultural exchange event.

It was Japan’s kimono industry and other related manufacturers that were potentially affected by these events, and a number of kimono designers have expressed their concern about it. Socially conscious Americans who admired the kimono began to avoid wearing it, from fear of being criticized for cultural appropriation. All this was occurring when Japan’s fast fashion retail company Uniqlo had just released their casual kimono wear and yukata lines for the global market.

The debate seemed to intensify as Halloween neared last year. Young Americans were now worried whether dressing up as a geisha would be cultural appropriation, and even I was receiving such inquiries, to which my response was; “Go ahead – dress yourselves up!”

On January 2016, Boston Museum held a conference concerning a serial debate, but the discussion there was very limited, dominated by identity politics rhetoric, and only one Japanese person spoke up and was critical. So I would like to comment on this case from a view point of fashion historian.

Let’s try to assume for a moment that wearing the kimono in disregard of how it was originally intended to be worn is indeed cultural appropriation. A perfect example of this would be the kosode gown, a traditional outerwear for men and women of samurai rank, brought to Europe in the 19th century and appropriated as room wear. For European women who had to wear a corset as part of their daily wear, the kosode gown was introduced as something more comfortable to slip into when relaxing in the privacy of their home. Looking up the English dictionary even today, the kimono will be described as “room wear” or “dressing gown” – a complete misapplication of the term.

However, it was Paul Poiret, a fashion designer of the early 20th century, who found inspiration in none other than this kimono for his corset-free dresses. Thus, the centuries-old custom of the corset diminished, allowing 20th century mode style in the West to blossom. Throughout history, fashion culture has developed via dynamic exchange between cultures. Through being cut away, or “stolen” from its original context (at times with misinterpretation), it leads to completely new and unexpected creations, which then later come back to their original culture as a new form.

This opinion may make more sense to contemporary Japanese, who have, without considering questions of their superiority or inferiority relative to other societies, welcomingly embraced various cultures. Japanese also usually feel rather honored to have their culture “appropriated”: David Bowie, the British superstar who left us recently, was very famous for “borrowing” his face paint, androgynous look and orange colored hair from Kabuki theatre, and Japanese people applauded him for doing this. But for people who still bear the scars from the dark days of segregation and oppression, having their culture “borrowed” on a superficial level does equal to appropriation. Even if it does not feel relatable to the Japanese, it is important to remember at the back of our minds that such thoughts still persist strongly in our world.

It is almost clear that people in Fashion industry does not care about which culture is inferior or superior. Fashion history so full of examples of “cultural appropriation” that it is even absurd to discuss about such tough question. We can hear the interesting comment from the people in fashion industry in the preview of upcoming documentary movie about Vogue, following the days leading up to the annual Met Ball . The 2015’s gala theme was “Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film and Fashion”. A lot of people expected the event and subsequent exhibition should be rife with racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation, especially in this mood around the Boston Museum. But, it seems the  film doesn’t skirt around the tough questions.  Only Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute curator, tells to the camera, “There’s a lot of political hurdles. Some of the topics that the exhibition is addressing could be interpreted as being racist.” And I am sure they will ignore all claims if they should occur, because it is simply “not fashionable” , or even nonsense,  to take up such claims seriously.

As if to prove the feelings above, NY collection held in February 2016 acclaimed the Kimono Collection by Hiromi Asai. Models are western women, including colored people, who wore about 30 designs featuring colorful kimono of Kyo-yuzen dye and Kyo-kanoko shibori tie-dye accentuated with obi in Nishijin-ori brocade, which wowed the audience at the runway show. Ms. Hiromi Asai, the brand producer said; “We want kimono to become familiar with a wide range of people beyond the boundaries of culture and race.” And there occurred not a single discussion about appropriation.

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(By courtesy of the producer,  Ms. Hiromi Asai)

Something I saw recently in the news felt like a faint ray of hope amidst news stories riddled with darkness and despair – the gentle emergence of Muslim Lolita fashion within Islamic cultures. Young Muslim women are now “borrowing” the Japanese Gothic Lolita style and donning frilly pastel colored hijabs – and it is an incredibly cute sight to behold.

Personally, I simply see this movement as an expression of admiration for Japan’s Lolita fashion. Imagine if no culture was considered superior or inferior to others, and if dark histories of our past were not brought up each time we wished to casually “appropriate” each other’s styles, simply because we admired and adored them. I think “appropriation” of fashion can be one of the most direct and loving ways of saying “yes” to another culture.

Responding to the love call from Muslim women, Uniqlo has teamed up with Muslim fashion designer, Hana Tajima, to create a modest ‘lifewear’ collection for women, which includes traditional wear like kebaya and hijabs. It seems to me this is one modest and modern step of the cultural infusion through fashion, which will lead us to understand each other.

I wonder, or rather pray, that sharing such a sense could one day make this world a more peaceful place.

(Alfred Stevans, La Parisienne Japonaise. 1872.   From Wikimedia Commons)

Kaori Nakano is a fashion historian and professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.



“Nakano closed her lecture by saying the following: “All three founders, rather than striving for “premium products” by combing various specifications, lived luxurious lifestyles and were not competing with anyone. I hope that you will feel inspired by these unprecedented designers who transformed the industry while taking in the values of the generation. Her lecture on the pioneers of the people’s fascination with brands came to a close on a very high note.”


今年度春の講座も、パワーアップしてお届けします。「時代を導く男性像とモード」。女性ももちろん、大歓迎です! どの領域もそうですが、「女性」と「男性」は常にセットで考えていくべきだと思っています(LGBTもその対概念の派生形として)。



“All real education is the architecture of the soul.” (By William Bennett)

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最終日の最後には、卒業セレモニーが用意されていました。つい先ほどまでのレッスン風景の写真が、感動的な動画になっていて(結婚式の最後に流れる動画のように)、いつの間に撮ったんだ!?という無防備な写真ばかりですがいっそうジワっとくるものでした。髪を巻いているヒマなどあるはずもなく、毎日、文字通りのノーメイクでトレーニングに没頭していましたが、それもまたよい思い出。ca 71


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今回、中心的に面倒を見てくださったUCIのインストラクター。左から、Roger Dupuy, Michelle Ryan, Chris Stillwell, Karl Kottman。彼らは自称「Crazy Americans」でしたが(笑)、ほんとうにオンオフの区別なく、きめ細やかに、こちらが気付かない深いところまで親身になって、的確に面倒を見てくれた。

さらに、ひとりひとりがスピーチ。ca 46


Discover, Engage, Transform を地で行く濃密な一週間でした。思い通りに表現できない悔しさにも泣きましたが、かつて味わったことのないマインドセットの「変容」の経験をさせていただきました。これまでただ学生による授業アンケートの評価に安住していた自分がいかに生ぬるかったか。上には上がまだまだある。この経験をこれからの現場に生かしていきます。素晴らしいプログラムを用意してくださったUCI, そして明治大学国際連携部に心より感謝します。また、「たまには家事を忘れて思い切り勉強してこい」と背中を押してくれた息子たちにも感謝。留守中の彼らをそっと見守っていてくれた優しい友人・親戚にも。みなさまのおかげです。




朝一からクリスのハードなレッスンとワークショップ。効果的な質問の仕方、ディスカッションの仕方を実践的に学んでいく。「Yes / No 」で答えられる質問はしない(そこで議論が止まるから)”Do you understand?” “Why don’t you understand?”なども悪い質問例。ca 51

(Prof.Yuichi, Prof. Suzanne, Prof. Keisuke.)

ではどうするのかといえば、パラフレーズ(言い換え)を続けていく。”What I am hearing you say is……” とか、”It sounds like you are saying……”とか。本人に答えを見出させるのが目的であって、決してこっちが答えを押し付けるような真似をしてはいけない。このあたり、カウンセリングの手法ですね。

学生に答えを作り上げさせるこの手法を、Constructivism  というそうです。=Let students help themselves という考え方。演劇みたいですな。

そして教師は常に能動態でクラスに臨めと。Surprise, Make Think, Make Laugh, Scare(笑)など。

ca 50                                                                                                    (右端がChris)

なかでも基本となる能動態動詞が、Create.  Create the happy place for everyone.  クラスの全員すべてが、自分は受け入れられていると感じるような雰囲気を作ること。これまで学んだすべてのテクニックがそのためである、と。もし、クラスの雰囲気がネガティブなものであったら、それはほかならぬ教師の責任。環境は自分が創り出しているのだということを忘れるな、という厳しい指導に身が引き締まる思い。






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超高級住宅がずらりと並ぶビーチは圧巻。テレビ番組のロケも。ca 23

夕陽の美しさは壮大で、左のほうに、太陽と同じくらいの大きさの七色に輝く球体が見えた。「シーボール」と呼ぶのだそうで、めったに見られないとのこと。天からの激励として受けとめました。ca 68

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Photo of professors.  左端にいらっしゃるのはアフリカン・アメリカン・スタディーズのProf. Chandler。右端は日本文化を研究するProf. Willam Bridges。ウィルは日本語がぺらぺらで、日本文学にやたら詳しい。専門だからあたりまえなのですが。私の名刺をコースター代わりにしていたので怒ってみせたら(ジョークでね)、日本人のように「キョウシュク」していたのがおかしかった。

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ロジャーことロジャー・デュプイのドラマチックなレッスンからスタート。いきなり、「スターウォーズ」の台本読みのシーンから開始。スクリプトがいかに大切であるかということを印象づけられたうえで、Thinking in Pieces という考え方、そしてFlipped Learning の実践的方法を学ぶ。

Thinking in Piecesを具体的に理解するために、A4の紙を8つに折らせる。それぞれのセクションにスクリプトを書いていくのだ。

1. Metadata  2. One Important Term  3. Definition  4.Picture  5. Sentence of Reason (Why the learning of this topic is important)  6. Tell a Story  7. Mention the Term again  8. Metadata


Flipped Learning は、20世紀的な授業の進め方を反転する学習方法。これまでは、学生は学校で先生の話を聞き、家でホームワークをする、というやり方だった。それを反転させる。つまり、学生は家でパソコンなどを通して学び、学校では議論をしたり作業をしたりする。

これによって、学生をUnleashする! 束縛を解いて自由にする、という感じでしょうか。





ロジャーはHumanity is Charm. と強調し、どんどんあなたらしさを出していきなさい、英語が完璧でなくても。そのほうが活発なクラスになっていく、と話す。たしかに。



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UCIのモットーは、Discover Engage Transform. 発見せよ。深く関われ。変容せよ。インストラクターたちのエンゲージの度合は、想像以上に深い。それゆえ、こちらも感化されていやおうなく変容する。

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ランチはUniversity Centerで。ここも美しくてレストランのバリエーションが豊富。

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でも私の授業は一クラス200~300人だ。ホールでの講義。小人数ならいいけど、これにどうやってインタラクティブな方法を取り入れていくのか? いくつか試したいと思った方法があるけど、果たしてうまくいくのか? これからの課題。

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ハードな一日を終えて帰りのシャトルバスを待つの図。Prof. Yuichi, Prof. Keisuke.

オスカーセレモニーに次いで、スーパーチューズデーもアメリカで体験できたのは幸運。下は翌朝のUSA TODAYの一面。大学のスタッフは、「毎朝ドナルド・トランプの顔を見なくてはいけないという状況にうんざり」と言っていた。

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“Let us absolutely clear about one thing: we must not confuse humility with false modesty or servility.” (By Paulo Coelho)

“It is not serving, but servility, that is menial.”(By Hortense Odlum)

“Servility always curdled into rage in the end.” (By Tina Brown)







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同僚のProf. Connie, Prof. Keisuke, Prof. Yuichi, Prof. Takane. インストラクターたちはすぐに私たち全員の名前を覚え、ひんぱんにファーストネームで呼び、コールドコール(いきなり指名すること)をしたりする。一秒の気も抜けず、時間を忘れるほど集中しているうちにあっというまにレッスンが終わる。


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UCIのシンボル、アリクイ。ca 62


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ホテルの部屋から見下ろすとプールが見えるが、早朝から夕方までのレッスンと、大量の宿題で、なごむ時間もなく。ca 79




UCI (University of California, Irvine)での研修初日。これから一週間は朝8時開始、夕方5時終了というハードなスケジュールでみっちり「学生」として学びます。ca 44

今回の研修は、EMI (English as Medium of Instruction) プログラム。「英語を母国語としない」教師が、それぞれのアカデミックな領域を、「英語を母国語とする学生も含む多様な学生」に対し、英語で教えるための戦略や技術を学ぶ、あるいはよりブラッシュアップするための集中コースです。大学の国際化にともない、英語を母国語とする学生、留学生もますます増加の傾向にあります。そんな学生に対し、英語で専門科目を教えるということがあたりまえの能力として求めらる時代に入っています。















学生のカフェテリアでは多彩な料理のなかから食べたいものを選んでいく。野菜をたっぷり使ったヘルシーな料理も充実。ca 39


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“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?” -The First History Man  (Cited from “Mad Max Fury Road”)

今回のアカデミー賞で議論を呼び起こしたのが、衣装デザイン賞受賞のジェニー・ビーヴァンでした。作品は「マッドマックス フューリーロード」(日本語タイトル 「マッドマックス 怒りのデスロード」)。








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コスチュームの詳しい情報については、こちら。 音楽もいいですね。