The very different filters with which Japan and other countries, particularly the United States, view topics of race and discrimination can be explained by a multitude of cultural differences, such as education, social homogeneity, regard for identity politics, and overall history--to simply name a few. One of the more contested gaps in understanding is the concept of cultural appropriation, which although not particularly new, has found more attention lately given its relatively recent nomenclature. A lack of mutual regard for the concept often puzzles Japanese observers when it is brought up in the news, with a blog post from a Utah mother who threw a Japanese-themed tea party for her daughter shedding light on the dialogue that often happens in such cases.

The blog, the gala gals, which focuses on party planning, features a post detailing a Japanese tea party for a daughter, wearing a kimono and makeup. If you've been following social media in any way for the last few years, you don't need to be told that this was met with accusations of racism, cultural appropriation, and ignorance, despite the mother's protest that she held the party with the intent to "only to share food, traditions, and cultures with kids in a positive and fun way". After these claims, a Japanese poster stepped in on a reblogged tumblr post, and while may be considered anecdotal, actually does a good job of showing what many Japanese people feel about the concept of cultural appropriation.

The response is very similar to that given by many Japanese social media users when American model Karlie Kross visited Japan and wore a kimono-esque dress and posed with a sumo wrestler for a Japanese-themed photoshoot featured in Vogue magazine was hit with claims of cultural appropriation. Our Japanese language site wrote about the matter, and when seeking advice and feedback from English writers, faced some roadblocks in understanding the concept of cultural appropriation.

Response to the article, as well as on other Japanese sites largely echoes the tumblr poster--mentioning that Japan itself, such as in language and food, is sort of an amalgamation of foreign imports, and that many Japanese are happy to spread kimono and other aspects of culture to foreign countries as gifts,and of course business, as can be seen with the worldwide Kimono Project. In general, the response was bewilderment at how the act of wearing a kimono, something generally encouraged in Japan, could be considered racism, as well as frustration as to what possibly else could be considered so.

For a much more insightful look into the (general) Japanese response to cultural appropriation, we highly recommend reading this commentary piece from the The Japan Times by Shaun O'Dywer. It explores reaction to the controversy of kimono-try-on sessions at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. A quote below illustrates some of the economic concern it raises.

"Japanese social media briefly lit up in exasperation and bewilderment. People were mystified that anyone could accuse a kimono try-on event of being racist or imperialist. Few comprehended the identity politics assumptions driving the protesters. Some right-wing nationalists assumed they were anti-Japanese Chinese and Korean agitators.

Perhaps for the mainstream Japanese media and for many fashion commentators such a controversy is of little concern, being just another inexplicable skirmish in America’s culture wars. But it is more than that; if casual yukata styles are to attract foreign consumers who are also sensitive to social justice issues, a clear message needs to be communicated to them by Japanese supporters of the industry.

That message, recently iterated to me by an employee at the Nishijin Textiles Center in Kyoto, is this: Anyone can appropriate and creatively modify kimono styles whenever and however they like."

Of course, this is not to dismiss any offended parties or downplay the legitimate hurt that can arise from incidents where cultures are disrespected. It does, however, illustrate the difference with which Japan usually responds to such cases.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.