In late June, reality television star, Kim Kardashian West, announced a new shapewear collection called “Kimono.” The backlash was instant. With Japanese people at its forefront, a #KimOhNo Twitter campaign was launched against West, as well as a petition via change.org with as many as 120,000 signatures just days after her news. At first, the fashion mogul remained unwavering; she made an official statement in a New York Times article that said, “I understand and have a deep respect for the significance of the kimono in Japanese culture,” reaffirming the pride she has for her brand and its inclusivity.
However, just a day after the mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, penned an open letter to West asking her to reconsider. The celebrity backed down and agreed to re-release her product under a new name, Solutionwear. This shift took place less than a week after her initial kimono brand name reveal.
Intrigued by the heavy wave of protests and its fast turnaround success, I interviewed twelve Japanese people living inside and outside of Japan on how they felt about the recent news. Here’s what they had to say:
For the sake of privacy, some interviewees have used pseudonyms. Their responses have been condensed and edited, and some have been translated from Japanese.
Confusion and Eye Rolls
Some simply questioned Kardashian West’s latest move. It was difficult to place their finger on the exact problem—including their feelings on it.
“My friend had texted me about the kimono fiasco, and I remember shrugging; I wasn’t entirely surprised nor thrilled by the scandal…” says Naomi Hirano, 27, an account manager in Tokyo. She continues, somewhat perplexed, “Was the name used because of Kim’s assumptions of what a kimono was? Was it purely literary?… Ignorance is certainly not an excuse but…” She trails off there, wondering.
While there was confusion, sales engineer from Yokohama, Taishu, 28, isn’t upset. In fact, he thinks this isn’t such a big deal. “For me, [Kardashian West using ‘kimono’] is not a heavy thing. This way of thinking is really American. In America, cultural appropriation is a sensitive issue.”
SSS, a 27-year-old office worker in Tokyo, didn’t feel confusion nor content. In fact, she replied that she felt “Not much. Actually, nothing.” Confident that Kardashian West doesn’t actually have as much power as she is made out to have, SSS declares, “My perception and image of kimono are not going to change at all…[I’m] sure people will keep using the word with what it has meant for thousands of years.”
Sharing a somewhat similar opinion is Daigo Kawai, 39, a CEO and producer in Tokyo. He is adamant that all of this is nonsense, and dives into a bit of word politics and criticism. “To be honest I hate the word “cultural appropriation”. It’s like racism—it’s casually thrown out so much so that it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
He continues to say that America doesn’t really have any cultural traditions that have lasted a “millennia” the way that Japan does. For this reason, it shouldn’t be considered “offensive” to pull from cultures from all over the world. “People are too sensitive about everything… Life is short, just enjoy and appreciate other cultures.”
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