I stumbled across this whole #KimOhNo case, when I was scrolling down Facebook and saw one of my Japanese friends sharing a petition against Kim Kardashian and something about ‘kimono’.
Being brought up in a Danish home with two (former-)activists – a.k.a. my foster parents – plus my interest in how Asian cultures being interpreted in Western societies, of course, THIS CASE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION !
When I typed ‘Kim Kardashian kimono’ into Google’s searchbar, I imagined I would find a somewhat inappropriate perversed version of the Japanese clothing. I thought that maybe she had made a dress or some kind of bath robes and called it ‘kimono’.
With these images in my head, I scrolled and scrolled for pictures and articles with pictures for the product of matter. All I found was pictures of Kim Kardashian and models wearing underwear/shapewear… Somehow my perception blinded me and it took me a while to understand that these UNDERWEAR on the pictures were the ‘kimono’ of matter !
Now, I’m not Japanese, but I have always had an interest in Japan and Japanese culture. My childhood and most of my teenager years were dedicated to the arts of Japanese comics and cartoons – better known as manga and anime. I didn’t just enjoy reading and watching them, I even tried to create my own comic. In the process, I had to research traditional Japanese clothing and customs. I was merely 15yo. Call me naïve, but I believe that Kardashian is not that stupid and I definitely don’t think that her PR-team would be too dumb to do something a 15yo kid managed to do – research.
Rage and anger were brewed on while a little voice in my head asked: “how do you think Japanese people react to this?”
Since there was a petition going on and many MANY angry voices developed across the World Wide Web, I had an idea that this was a great deal for a lot of Japanese people.
I interviewed a friend to get a bit clearance on WHY #KimOhNo is deemed outrageous. I wanted to ask more people, but I only got 1 response which I am truly thankful for.
Hi, who are you?
I’m Chiharu Takahashi, a 22y-o girl from Japan.
I’ve studied at KU (Copenhagen University) as an exchange student, so I came back to Copenhagen during the gap months before starting my job.
What do you think of Kim Kardashian naming her shapewear brand ’Kimono’?
If it had any respectful reason to be named so, I could’ve appreciated it. But the reality was, for me, she just chose “Kimono” because of how it sounds, which is similar to her name, Kim.
It just doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t understand why she all of sudden decided to choose it as her new brand’s name without any cultural context like copy and paste.
I feel like she is just using “Kimono” as her new “ethnic-ish, mysterious and apparently cool“ accessory to make herself look gorgeous. In my eyes, it seems like she doesn’t care about kimono as a part of Japanese culture, but just took it because it looks like [some] cool material to show off.
Why is it inappropriate?
She said she is respecting our kimono culture, but it is hard to believe. If she’s ever looked up the history or what actual kimono is, she would’ve not named her brand “Kimono” I guess.
First, the original kimono is [a] totally different clothing from Kim’s “Kimono”. Her product is shapewear, but kimono is [a] clothing which is designed to flatten your curves. I remember when I wore hurisode or hakama, which are formal kinds of kimono, to celebrate turning 20 years old or graduation from university, we put so much cotton in kimono to kill my curves. Kimono is the special traditional clothing, designed to make Japanese people who tend to have less curves comparing to western people, look beautiful. So, people who are wearing “Kimono” are supposed to have beautiful rectilinear lines or gentle curves. If she has ever experienced the real kimono or even googled it to see what it is, she can’t do such a thing. That’s part of the reason why I thought she named it “Kimono” without any research or respectful feelings, but just for shallow personal reasons. That is why I think it is inappropriate.
Kimono and “Kimono” hardly share [the same] concept. The only one common point is these are some kinds of clothing.
What does the kimono symbolize in Japan and Japanese culture? When do you wear it?
You can still sometimes see the people wearing Kimono as their daywear, not only the elderly but also youngsters. I think Japanese people tend to avoid national symbols or being unique (for example, you can barely see any Japanese flags in Japan). I’ve never seen someone’s house raising Japanese flags individually (you can see them only on national holidays), generally speaking.
Wearing kimono is one of the most obvious national symbols [and] still a lot of Japanese people are familiar with this tradition. We love and enjoy it as a part of our life. It’s our precious tool to feel who we are. That’s why we wear the kimono especially for celebrating something (festivals for 3y-o boys and girls, 5y-o boys and 7y-o girls, graduations, turning 20 and weddings) or enjoying summer festivals. We can feel togetherness as members of Japanese society. So, for me, it’s like a symbol to unite us as a proud people.
Thank you, Chiharu, for explaining the importance of kimono for Japanese people. I didn’t know that the kimono bore such a strong symbol of unity and togetherness. Thank you for explaining all this, so that we can understand your frustration.
Though this case doesn’t affect me in a direct way, I still imagine that if the name of matter was to change to qipao/cheongsam, I would probably react the same way as my friend and other Japanese people who have been voicing about this cultural appropriation.
I think it’s important to stand up and support each other, no matter nationality, because it might be the Japanese kimono today but it could be the Chinese qipao/cheongsam tomorrow.
To clearify, I’m not usually one that disapproves when non-Chinese people wear traditional Chinese clothing when it’s done with utmost respect and in the spirit of cultural exchange. But this, #KimOhNo, it is nowhere near anything of exchange but ignorance and exploitation just for a little profit.
Kim Kardashian claims that her brand is built with inclusiveness and diversity, but alone the message that she is sending with her shapewear is either inclusive or diverse. She is telling women that there should only be one shape – in which world is that diverse? – and being realistic, not many women is or will be fitting into that shape – in which world is that inclusive? On top of that, her naming of the brand shows an incredible lack of respect for Japanese people and lack of insight in Japanese culture.
It would be easy to just blame Kim Kardashian for being ignorant, but as I said before, even if she is that ignorant, her entire PR-team should know better. During a conversation I had with a couple of friends, we reached to the agreement that this whole naming thing must be done strategically. I’m not familiar with the Kardashians and their way of making profits, but as I’m told, the #KimOhNo isn’t the first case of cultural appropriation that the family has been blamed for and that cultural appropriation is a method to obtain publicity. If this is true, then this is exactly what is wrong with our society – the things some people would do for profit, the lack of insight, dignity and especially the lack of respect for other people!