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Cultural Appropriation: What Is the True Kimono?

July 3, 2022

Momoho Kumekawa



Kim Kardashian, a celebrity and business person in the U.S., has launched a brand Skims, which sells underwear, loungewear, and shapewear for all women. A concept of the brand is “Solution For Every Body.” Its product line can suit changing shapes of women’s bodies. She focuses on a very unique point because such adaptive clothing has not been developed well in the underwear market yet.


Although her brand has a good concept for diversity and, in fact, has become successful outcomes, it has struggled with a controversial problem of “cultural appropriation.“



Appropriating Cultural Things


“Cultural appropriation“ often takes place when members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way. In the case of Kim, the problem was that she had named her underwear brand Kimono. The meaning of kimono is a traditional Japanese clothing that represents its goument culture. It has never meat underwear. Moreover, Kim filed the trademarks for kimono. Faced with a harsh backlash, Kim eventually gave up using Kimono for her band.


If the registration of the Kimono brand had been allowed, many people who saw the products would considered Japanese kimono as underwear. Other companies would not be allowed to sell authentic Japanese kimono even under the real name of kimono. It is a serious problem to monopolize the cultural items for business purpose and it could be regarded as cultural appropriation.

Authentic kimono designs.



Accepting the Misunderstanding


Unfortunately, many Japanese people do not make sense of the cultural appropriation even if it is a problem related to their own culture. Despite there were many other examples that Japanese kimono was under controversy, they do not argue about them.


Katy Perry, who is a famous singer, performed with a costume that looked like both Japanese kimono and Chinese dress at a live concert, which main concept was Japonism. Chinese culture is the origin of Japanese kimono, but two styles do not look the same. Despite being known as a Japanophile, she somehow mixed up two Asian cultures. Although, a few Japanese people raised their voices about Katy’s misunderstanding and explained each Asian culture. But most Japanese simply felt happy about the fact that a world famous artist liked Japanese culture.


Probably, the reason why they do not care about appropriating their culture is that there are many Japanese things that were combined with other cultures and developed in their own way such as Ramen, which is a popular kind of noodles with Chinese origin, or annual events like Halloween and Christmas.



Show Your “Respect” for the Culture


One of the solutions for promoting cultural appropriation is to go back to the basic; respecting for unique cultures each other. Unfortunately, many Japanese seem not to be sure about the definition of “respect.”


Is it fine just to say “I do respect the culture”? No way. To respect other culture, people should learn the history of other culture before they borrow some elements from there, pay attention to the sentiments among the related people and show their consideration in proper action when they adopt other cultures. People of other cultures may figure out the borrowers’ intention if they clarify what resources they use and why they want to adopt that culture. That would eventually lead people to “respect” other cultures.


To prevent inappropriation of other cultures, it’s effective to keep in mind that we might exploit someone’s cultures and to visualize your attitude of “respecting.”


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