Why I won’t tell you where to buy yukata anymore

My most popular post is “Where to buy yukata”?  Nowadays, instead of pride, I feel guilty.  As I’ve gotten more socially aware, I have realized that it is no longer my place to supply this information.  Since I am not Japanese, I am contributing to cultural appropriation, and that is not something I want to do.  I apologize to any individuals of Japanese descent for offending them.

Cultural appropriation is hard to define.  It’s often explained as borrowing or stealing of elements from one cultural by another, usually dominant one, but that ignores cultural exchange, which is not a bad thing.  As The Long Way home points out in this great article (a must read), “cultures aren’t tangible things that can only be possessed by one person.”  The issue with cultural appropriation is then the removal of culture out of the context that surrounds it.   You can’t just wear a yukata because you think it’s pretty.  That ignores the history of oppression faced by Japanese people and all the times they were forced to adopt a Western style of dress or get rid of any Japanese items.   It ignores the fact that Japanese kids get bullied for dressing different, that Japanese women are still fetishized (Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls and “Asian Girlz” anyone?), and that there are people who think that the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami was some sort of divine retribution for Pearl Harbor or the fishermen killing dolphins (I knew a woman who believed in the latter).

Yes, it’s not fair that people have spoiled the opportunity for others to appreciate Japanese culture through clothing.  It’s also unfair that white men are the stars of samurai movies in the West and that Chinese actresses were cast in Memoirs of a Geisha.  Furthermore, there are other ways to appreciate a culture: learning a language, hosting an exchange student, attending a local festival, purchasing music and movies from that culture,  or (if you’re in Japan) taking classes in wearing kimono.  I’m NOT saying that you can’t wear a yukata or a kimono, but you have to really dig deep and think about why you’re doing it and you’re going to have to prepare for the stink faces that sometimes are a gut reaction (I give it to non-Chinese people who wear qipao outside of volunteering situations even if they are my friends).

There’s not a clear line between when a non-Japanese person can and cannot wear a yukata or a kimono.  Different Japanese people have differing opinions about it.  However, there are obvious things that you should not do, and I hope you can learn from the mistakes I made with yukatas and kimonos.
badyukata

The first outfit was a costume based on an image of Nana Osaki in a robe (last photo in Nana 1st Illustration here).  It’s acceptable to wear kimonos and yukatas if you’re cosplaying a character at a convention, but you have to do it right.  Confusing a robe for a yukata/kimono is not doing it right.  Furthermore, my roommate picked out a brocade with a “very Chinese” (a Japanese co-worker’s term) design.  I should’ve said something, but I didn’t and I wound up making things worse by tying the obi in the front like Nana did with the robe.  Major fail.

The middle picture would not have been so bad if I hadn’t decided to stick a wig on it.  The JETs were invited to wear yukatas to our farewell party; that’s a perfectly good time to wear one.  Due to my problems with self-image and attention, I decided that I would stick a pink cosplay wig.  This Tumblr post describes why wearing cosplay outside of a convention is problematic.  I basically took an honor and selfishly stomped all over it.

If I had not learned my lesson, I again committed a horrific act of bastardizing a yukata via steampunk.  There’s a difference between making an outfit with components inspired by traditional Japanese clothing (like “kimono” sleeves or wa-lolita) and altering the original garment itself.  While there are Japanese steampunks who do alter yukatas or accessorize it in an atypical way (as non-Japanese steampunks who have the knowledge and the proper motivations to do the same), it is not my place to do so.

How about when it is okay to wear a yukata or kimono?  A safe bet is whenever you are invited to by Japanese people.  The photo below on the left was taken when our ALT music group was invited to perform and given the opportunity to rent kimonos and be dressed by a professional.  On the right, I’m being dressed by a Japanese friend from Sister Cities during our charity concert.  It was originally my idea to wear my yukata in order to attract attention towards our efforts to raise money for earthquake and tsunami survivors, as well as to celebrate the kindness of my co-workers in Miyagi who gave me the yukata.  My friend approved, and she’s actually asked to borrow it to let a Caucasian girl wear it to help promote our organization and its exchange program.
kimono photo 090621_14100001_zps515c8a10.jpg  photo 76f99f35-f8d7-4a6b-9e7f-369c61f91b93_zpseb754e6c.jpg

These are my opinions, and I’m still adjusting them with new information I receive.  I don’t have an answer to whether you can wear a yukata to a matsuri, like my “Where to Buy Yukata?” post encouraged.  The Tumblr post I had previously linked makes a good case for why it’s not a good idea.  I can’t prevent anyone from wearing a yukata, but if you do, please don’t put on awful “geisha” make-up (EDIT: I misphrased my original comparison to blackface. What I mean to say is that this is a form of yellowface when you are going off of stereotypes) and purchase it from a Japanese seller.  The least we can do is to support the original culture’s economy instead of buying non-Japanese kimonos and yukatas.  If you want another perspective, a good site is This is Not Japan.

Listening to: “Ibitsu” by the GazettE

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27 Comments

  1. Can you comment on historical re-creation, where people are making an effort to be accurate and period? I know many SCA people that have Japanese personas.

    • This is one of those grey areas that I’m still not sure of myself, but if an SCA person had a Chinese persona, I might question their motives at first but I’d probably be okay with it if they did their research. Certain figures like samurai and geisha get a little bit iffy because they’re often stereotyped and most people don’t know the training that goes into becoming a samurai or geisha, but an alternative argument is that you see samurai and geisha in anime so what makes it different from cosplay? I’d say if you have Scottish people who are okay with non-Scots wearing a kilt with a random tartan pattern, then an Asian persona created with a lot of thought and research would be okay. Just be aware that there will be people who find that unacceptable.

  2. I live in Japan, and I wear yukata fairly often. I have never ONCE been given a “mean” look. I *have* been complimented, people have asked to photograph me, and people have expressed admiration that I was able to wear it properly. My husband has also worn it a few times. He also received compliments. I really don’t think it is inappropriate, and I don’t think that Japanese people are insulted by it. That said, we lived in Kyoto when I was a JET, and we now live in Nagoya, so our locations could be a contributing factor.

    • I definitely it’s dependent on location and the situation. In Japan, I saw a lot of encouragement. Here in Texas, visitors seem to like seeing others in yukata, but I’ve noticed that the Japanese residents don’t wear yukatas even to festivals. It’s mostly just the kids.

  3. Kylee

     /  December 7, 2014

    I live in Washington in the U.S. I’m not Asian at all, what so ever. But I love Asian Culture, mostly Chinese and Japanese, and I can distinguish between them well. There are quite a few Japanese residents around my neighborhood and I wore a yukata last summer just for the fun of it. It was bought from a Japanese website. They didn’t give me dirty looks. A couple of the elders flocked to me and said things like, “It’s nice to see foreigners take interest in our culture!” They weren’t offended at all…So maybe it’s mostly where you’re at? I don’t know…Though my obi wasn’t worn correctly, they kind of giggled at me. But an elder woman helped me fix it and she showed me how.

  4. Ms Noriko

     /  June 15, 2015

    I’m Japanese of 24 years old, and I have to say, you are ridiculous. A yukata has no special significance for Japanese, it is a casual item of clothing that can be worn at anytime by anyone and many Japanese have nice business selling yukata and other accessories around the world. Who do you think you are that you can dictate business and fashion to people? A yukata has no religious significance that might cause offence, and itself is adapted from the Chinese styles of clothing. People in Japan are not so stiff, insecure and unimaginative when it comes to clothing as you Communists, we wear whatever we want, mostly based on Western styles so what is this cultural appropriation stuff you are talking about? It seems to be you dictate to Western people how to behave while ignoring all similar behavior from every one else. Like with your limited knowledge of history. Japan was not oppressed, Japan was an Imperial power and we have our own stories of brutality and oppression of others. Our modernisation came from inside, not from Americans telling us what to do, we wanted to be a world super power and so we tried to make it happen, which is why we joined Nazi Germany and why we had our own POW camps. Learn your history from actual historians and you might not look so ignorant and desperate to please and prostrate yourself before ‘the exotic other’. Anyway, back to clothing. Although there are formal ways to wear kimono and a natural way of wearing yukata, you are not bound by these rules, they are just appropriate in certain circumstances, such as bridal kimono wear. Educate yourself and relax, people are free to wear whatever they please and if this offends you perhaps you should go live under Islamic State and join them in condemning all free spirited people to fashion Hell? I don’t want to live in a world where people are so scared of offending they consider enjoying yukata the same as racism. Also, about blackface, how dare you compare dressing as a Geiko to minstrel show racism. Geiko is a profession, it is not a race, even Geiko of Kyoto dress tourists for fun and to make some extra money in their dying profession. it is just a job, sure it has a long history but it’s not a special job that only Japanese can do, we’re not racists and fascists like you which is why an American named Liza Dalby was welcomed in the community. It’s the same as a hostess but with more training. To be offended at someone wearing Geiko face is to be offended at someone wearing a cowboy hat, or a crown like the Queen of England or a military jacket like the Beatles Sgt. Pepper. You might want to stop reading radical sites like Tumblr, they’re brainwashing you into stupidity.

    • I wrote a post to clarify what I meant through my hastily written comment about so-called “geisha” make-up: http://wp.me/p1dElM-mw It may not be the exact equivalent of blackface, but it has contributed to the history of stereotyping of Asians in America and the loss of job opportunities for Asian performers. I do mention Liza Dalby as a good example of when wearing the geisha make-up is okay.

      I am a little concerned about your Islamic State remark. Are you so cruel and self-centered that you would condemn a person who suggests being more careful about one’s fashion choices (using my own mistakes as an example because I have offended people) to a group of murderers? I fear for the safety of those around you if this is your true nature.

    • Zess

       /  February 20, 2016

      Ms Noriko:
      Were is my “Like” Button? 😀

      • Kathryn Laughton

         /  March 15, 2016

        Thank you Ms Noriko! You make such sense! Hibara, you are being absurd! By your logic, we would never learn from other cultures, never experience other cultures or try different things. The human condition is about experimenting, developing, incorporating ideas, making bridges and being open-minded. There is always room for great respect and sensitivity when dealing with people of other cultures, but seriously yours is not useful thinking. My son wants to call you a Weeaboo.

      • I believe the term your son is looking for is “social justice warrior”.

  5. Momo21

     /  July 31, 2015

    Thank you!! I totally agree with Ms Noriko / June 15, 2015 post every word. I am Black American and Native American from the Choctaw Tribe. And the fact that you “Tried” to compare dressing up as a Geisha to Black face is way off point. The whole point of people dressing in Black face was to make fun, of be little and demean ,One particular Group of people. Based off of racism and racial bias. All of the people I know that have dressed in any form of Geisha style or attire or any form of Japanese attire ;Have done so, out of a positive point of view, respect and love for the Japanese culture. Just like what other ethnic groups have done. As we co-exist most of us fine something we like and want to embrace. I think before you do anything you should do at least a little research and ask questions first. And of course make sure your not doing anything purposely disrespect. My ancestors are from Egypt and other parts of Africa But I don’t get upset, because I see someone out side my ethnic group wearing cat eye make up. Or embracing one of the many many music styles, clothing or food based off My “traditional” background.
    By the way, I do think is someone is going to make any kind of a movie based off of another ethic group they really should try their best to get someone from that background. So that I do understand. But just as was said. Japan it self have embrace many western things, Such as the same as we here in America and all around the world have done with the Japanese. I point blank example is simple Anime alone. Most if not all of the characters look White and in more then a few animes, the character is mixed with Japanese and one of the many white Heritage backgrounds. And when they do have someone that is darker skinned, the character is either “Tanned” or Just a darker Japanese only Character…Is that Not a form of racism. Having a racial bias shown outwardly and publicly, a long with making money form these types of Anime and Manga. All I’m saying is there is more Good then Bad. I don’t believe most of the people who have worn anything based off of some from of “Japanese style” did so out of disrespect. And thank you again Ms Noriko for your statement. Actually being of Japanese ethnic background for telling us what you think.

    • I recently made a post to clarify my after-thought about the “geisha” make-up (which is quoted to display the inaccuracy of the label): http://wp.me/p1dElM-mw Blackface may not be an equivalent, but that make contributes to the long history of yellowface which has deprived Asian actors of job opportunities and contributed to negative stereotypes.

      I also want to re-emphasize that this post comes from a personal perspective and is a reflection about how I’ve come to take in more consideration of what I do with traditional Japanese clothing. As you said, you should do research and ask questions, which I didn’t really do initially.

  6. Raena

     /  August 15, 2015

    I happened to stumble upon this article while I was browsing through pictures of Yukata with my husband on Google… he and I plan to take a trip to Japan in the very near future, less than a year from now, actually, and I am trying to get him to become confident in the idea of wearing a Yukata with me during our visit. I mean, I’ve been an avid fan of all things Japan since I was young, not even because of anime culture, but because I have an unexplainable love for the language (which I am learning), the country, it’s history, it’s religions and it’s fashion. Everything about the Land of the Rising Sun brings me nostalgia despite this being my first time going. I want him to fall in love with Japan the way I am. And honestly, reading this article was incredibly disappointing. I feel like a majority of it was written with pure ignorance. Ms.Noriko basically covered everything I had thought while reading to a T, and I commend her for her brilliant choice of words. Sure, I have never been to Japan yet, but that does not mean I don’t know anyone who has. Off the top of my head, I know about 6 people who have gone to Japan before I have. And one of the first things they did was either go to buy or rent Yukata or Kimono out of the sure thrill of experiencing something so cultural IN JAPAN. Can’t get any better than that, right? I even asked them personally if they had faced discrimination from local Japanese when wondering in Kimono and Yukata out in public even when not going to Matsuri and they simply laughed and said “you should have seen how happy they were to see me take interest in their culture. They called me beautiful, told me to have a wonderful rest of the evening, bowed, waved, whatever and we moved on to keep having fun.” That’s not word for word. Don’t quote me on that. But my words are as close to theirs as I can remember. I don’t know where you are/were/have been where you faced discrimination but generalizing the public based on a few small encounters you may have faced is like telling someone because someone didn’t like your hair, no one should wear it in that style unless someone does your hair that way for you. As someone who is half black myself, I will tell you to NEVER. EVER. Compare black face to geisha make up. Geisha is a job. It has it’s own cultural background, but as previously mentioned, I’ve never seen anyone do Geisha make up to be offensive. Ever. While black face is blatantly and incredibly racist and offensive as it discriminates on the entire race as a whole and was in fact made to insult us blacks. Please, please, PLEASE! Do not write articles like this trying to discourage people from trying on or buying or renting Yukata! It is an experience I feel no one should be strayed away from, and I hope anyone who reads your article reads these comments and sees just how silly of an article this really is and that the information you are spreading is based on YOUR personal experiences and opinions and not on facts! I’ve even heard straight from a native Japanese (he hardly speaks English, but he does great for what he knows! Bless his heart <3) that he has never met a Japanese person the entire 26 years of his life who shunned anyone, including foreigners, from wearing Kimono or Yukata no matter what. It is an honor to see someone take pride in their clothing. It's not like there is anything to really offend there? It's just clothes? I suggest as Ms.Noriko has…. stay away from Tumblr. That community, it's people and their ideals rot your brain and make everything all about social justice when it really is not and you are just simply over thinking it. I hope all these comments make you think a little more about the things you say and information you spread, because to be honest???? This is not any better than the first article you wrote that this article was following up. Just more false information and discouragement. Thank you for reading my comment.

    -Raena

    • I believe you and some of the other commenters are overlooking the part in which I say that people CAN wear yukata. Being in Japan is generally a good reason, but as a foreigner, you’re probably going to get some weird stares because they don’t expect it. A lot of the side-eyes I’ve gotten from wearing regular yukata (no wig or steampunk accessories) is from Japanese-Americans who were forced to assimilate and also have to deal with self-proclaimed otaku who try to make everything about anime.

      All I’m trying to say is that some thought needs to be taken because you might end up not buying proper obi ties (a mistake my mom made) or folding the robe right over left (which is only for corpses). After showing up at a local matsuri here in the U.S. as the only person in yukata, I no longer feel comfortable sharing information and that is why I wrote this post.

  7. lyn

     /  September 4, 2015

    I’m an American woman of mixed race decent married to a Japanese man. My Japanese mother in law gifted me with the kimonos and obi that once belonged to her mother because her daughters had no interest and I did. It would be insulting not to care for them and wear them. They are in condition to be worn. This is why she gave them to me. She wanted to see them worn again and so she has. I was honored to accept these gifts along with learning the family recipes (yum). How dare you judge all Japanse people this way. No two people think the same. In fact most Japanese people feel that if the kimono is not appreciated by more people it will disappear intirely. The kimono artisans are struggling to make a living and the craft of kimono making is slowing disappearing. You might want to take a look at this article http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/07/18/books/underneath-orientalist-kimono/
    There will always be some people who feel differently but that is true of every culture. Don’t paint All peoples of any culture with one brush. You can’t know everyone.

    • I do give examples of when I wore a kimono or a yukata and had a perfectly positive experience (or mostly positive, as I did run in a little racism from Americans trying to promote the Sister Cities event in my yukata). Being gifted with one is another instance where everyone will agree that it’s fine. The article is really interesting and shows how cultural appropriation has become such a complicated matter. I wrote this post as a reaction to noticing the Japanese people in my community not wearing yukata at their events, and maybe it’s like the article says: they’re not interested. However, it could also be that they don’t feel comfortable. Either way, I don’t wish to take away from their event by being the center of photographers’ attention, and as a non-Japanese individual, especially one that has not spent years studying up on the fashion history, I don’t think it’s my position to promote wearing yukata willy nilly or to attempt to modernize it.

    • junichi

       /  September 12, 2015

      I agree with Lynn. I’ve never met a native japanese person who wasn’t excited to share japanese culture with the world. I would never expect a japanese to say, “Stop wearing that yukata!” any more than I would expect an American in bejing to go around and start snatching hamburgers out of peoples hands while screaming about cultural appropriation of the mighty big mac (btw, the mcdonalds in beijing is enormous, like a palace practically).

      I find that most people who complain about cultural appropriation will be the first people to tell you up and down that they are not racists, but also the last persons to realize that the arguments they use closely parallel arguments made in the last century in support of things like miscegenation laws. It’s very maddening to see xenophobia promoted in place of exploring and enjoying the various customs and cultural contributions of the different peoples of the world.

  8. Emily

     /  December 29, 2015

    And this draws the question of when it’s appropriation versus when it’s appreciation. I’d love to wear a yukata around my town with no particular reason, because the history, style, language, food and so on of Japan fascinate me, and I think the look is beautiful. I probably wouldn’t wear an actual kimono though as they tend to be more formal and I would hate to do something wrong. I would wear a yukata or kimono out of a respect and love of the culture they come from, and look into the matter before to make sure there wasn’t any “absolutely-do-not-do” sort of things to know (ways to act, walk, adjust your clothes etc.) Is that really appropriation?

  9. Snape

     /  February 20, 2016

    Hm… now, that maybe makes me an Asshole, but I do not care.
    So Japanese People have (somewhat) problems, with white wearing their traditional Cloth?
    I have seen Japanese Tourists wearing our traditional Cloth too (I am Bavarian, so I talk about Lederhosen and Dirnd’l) Mostly during the Oktoberfest of cause.
    Not only them, but almost everyone does, not knowing, what parts of the Clothing mean (like the Charivari) or how much some suffer from being just “funny to look at” when wearing it, or for how it is seen as a mere Costume.
    Apart from that, most of that are horribly wrong, poorly made and so on.
    Does ANYBODY bother? NO! No one cares, that our Tradition is misstreated.
    So, If I would WANT (I most likely wouldn’t, I guess it would not suit me ^^’ ) to ware a Kimono/Yukata, I would do so and not bother, if anyone disslikes that. Come over with, live is unfair so don’t be a sissy.
    Well, in that case I would (correctly) ware a good made one though.

  10. Just a person

     /  April 11, 2016

    I am sure my word means little, I am only one person and not the entire Japanese population, but I AM Japanese. And honestly, it is not wrong for a white person to wear yukata or any sort of Japanese traditional clothing, as long as you are respectful and do not do it with mocking purposes. We actually admire those who are respectful with us because it gladdens us to know you respect us. In fact, we borrow several of your trends. Our pop culture borrows several American aspects. So you may wear what you want.

  11. anon

     /  April 17, 2016

    I can`t believe so many people are getting mad and saying how dare you compare it to blackface, when actually dressing like a fake geisha does have negative connotations such as prostitute or easy to dominate/submissive lady which to me is fetishizing and negative. That is one thing that bothers me is that black people act like they are the only ones being mocked or discriminated when other races such as Asians and Hispanics also get mocked and discriminated by white people too. Even to this day Hollywood thinks its ok to do Yellowface, whilie Blackface would get a huge uproar so Hollywood wouldn`t dare do that. Asian men are considered the least desirable along with black women on dating sites data, so that means Asians are still facing racism. And white guys still objective Asian women as subserviant sex toys which is sickening.

  12. Saria

     /  June 22, 2016

    (Sorry for my bad english, I’m working on it). I disagree with this post. I’m living in Mexico City. For work and study reasons, in the last years I’ve got a lot of contact with japanese people, and I usually help in local matsuri planning. I haven’t seen yet any japanese person upset when seeing non japanese people wearing yukatas, even when they’re obviously wearing it wrong. They seem either pleased (when people do it right) or amused (when someone do it wrong), and I’ve heard a lot of compliments from them when I do it myself. In the other side, a lot of japanese people wear yukatas during our matsuri celebration, and stilyzed, modern, dress-like yukatas as well. Some of them (during mexican celebrations) wear the stereotypical mexican giant moustache (fake) and a big hat, and cry mariachi-style, and haven’t seen any offended mexican neither (we actually think is funny). You’re taking this too seriously and too personal; is not that solemn.

  13. Claire

     /  July 19, 2016

    What I find personally a little “disturbing” here is not really your article but your reaction to some comments. You precise yourself in your article that you are not Japanese and you give your point of view on a subject that you are not directly concern about: is wearing kimono a cultural appropriation? It is your right, and I agree that cultural appropriation is a serious matter, but why are you arguing and continuing to defend your opinion after the answer of someone concerned about the problem?

    Ms Noriko is maybe a little harsh in her discourse but she IS Japanese so she KNOWS what she is talking about. She is explaining you by A + B that no, wearing a kimono, especially a yukata, in NOT cultural appropriation because:

    1- Yukata is nothing else but clothing, and even more a very casual type of clothing which derived from Chinese clothing. So what? Should we forbid Japanese people to wear Kimonos because it is also in a way a form of cultural appropriation?

    2- Cultural appropriation is a term used to defend a culture which is reused and twist by oppressors. Japan was an oppressor (Such as France by the way and we are not yelling in the street every time we see someone with a “marinière” outside of our borders).

    I am a French white straight cisgender girl, so except for the last part, I have no lesson to give to anyone. But I have still a lot to learn. If someone really concerns by something is telling you that this thing is not a problem just listen to this person and learn. In continuing to argue you are just doing what you were denouncing in the first place: talking in the place of other (“oppressed”) people.

  14. Peach

     /  September 27, 2016

    I had made a kimono (probably badly) and was told it looked nice. (I dunno, they may have been being nice cause I was so shy) and the only time I wore it outside was on my birthday for a sakura festival a collage was holding with visiting Japanese officials of sorts. It was pretty nice and I had a good time also. In heighnsight I really hope I hadn’t offended anyone, the people seemed too polite to say anything if I had and I was too scared to talk to them directly as I have social anxiety.

  15. The only problem that I have is someone thinking that they can appropriate a family crest “Kamon” and wear it or have it displayed around the house like an art piece. It would be like me turning around and grabbing a kilt or a coat-of-arms from a European house just because it “looks cool”. My wife’s family Lee has a coat-of-arms. But I would never personally wear it even at a Celtic festival, but that’s just my personal take on the whole heraldry thing and perhaps a fellow Lee family member (however distant) may say different that since I’m married to a Lee, that he/she would welcome me wearing it. But until such time as they say so, I wouldn’t.

    My mother has never made any attempts to teach me about my Japanese heritage and I am struggling to find out about it. As I grow older, heritage has become more and more important.

    My wife is Irish-American and I am a Canadian of Japanese descent. (My father emigrated to Canada from Kyoto in 1956) and I have NO problem at all in the seeing my wife wear a montsuki bearing my family crest. The reason why: She is married to me and is a member of my family and as such she has that right to do so. As does Lyn, who posted earlier.

    I have no problem with foreigners wearing yukata or kimono (sans the mon – unless they are married into a Japanese family) provided that they do so with respect in the vein of the Scottish kilt.

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