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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Inappropriation
You occasionally see rows about cultural appropriation that turn on the wearing of Asian clothing, like this prom-dress story on the BBC site yesterday. Well, I can't speak about that case, because I know virtually nothing about Chinese culture or the place of that garment within it. But it occurs to me that when I post pictures of me rocking a yukata some people might be having similarly offended thoughts.

It's actually something I've thought about quite a bit. (I was already mulling over cultural appropriation before it was cool, e.g. in Four British Fantasists, a book published a full year before the founding of Tumblr.) One conclusion I've come to is that each case needs to be looked at individually. Tedious as that may seem, it kind of goes with the territory when you're talking about respect.

Here are some of the considerations.

What is the traditional role of the garment/object/style? Is it sacred or profane? Is it traditionally reserved to certain classes of people?

In the case of the yukata, it's simply a light, summer kimono. Like the kimono it's simply old-fashioned clothing, not sacred garb, although it's still worn at summer festivals and the like. From that point of view, it's no more cultural appropriation than is Japanese people wearing Western-style suits. But that comparison leads to the second possible objection, namely...

Does a European taking up that custom perpetuate a historical relationship of exploitation through slavery or colonialism with the originating culture?

In the case of Japan, there really is no such history with my own culture. (For a Brit, this is a rare treat.)

How do people in the country concerned feel about it?

This is hard to answer, and obviously I can't speak for every Japanese person, but from my own experience, reading what I can on the subject, and watching many a Youtube voxpop (e.g. this one), I have yet to encounter a single Japanese person in Japan* who has anything negative to say about Westerners wearing yukata. In fact, from my admittedly limited observation I'd say that cultural appropriation as a concept is alien to Japanese culture. Arguably, to apply the discourse of cultural appropriation to Japan is in itself a kind of cultural imperialism, but that's a rabbit hole I don't intend to go down here.

This doesn't mean that there are no ways to be offensive in Japanese culture. For a selection of ways to do that, I give you the example of Logan Paul, whose career has just ended as a result of it.

* People of Japanese descent brought up in Western countries may be a different matter.

My poorly-informed understanding is that Japanese culture has an elaborate and highly refined sense of etiquette. Logan Paul, however, hardly did anything that subtle.

A discussion of cultural appropriation of storytelling that I witnessed as far back as 1989 described various cultures as having completely different rules in regard to this, sometimes directly opposite to some other culture's rules.

I think that's right - and that's why it's not a good idea to use one-size-fits-all rules. The attitudes of indigenous Australians and Japanese to the question, for example, are a long way apart -and why shouldn't they be?

We had an idiot at my former gym who had samurai swords.

That's just plain dangerous!

Downham

Son deskai

Certainly yukata are available at hotels / onsen, for any visitor no matter where they're from. In Tokyo (at least) there are places where you can rent a kimono, and I think these are used by both Japanese and foreigners. But the traditional wedding kimono? No, I think that would be (very) inappropriate. Googling found this

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/08/04/commentary/japan-commentary/kimono-cultural-appropriation/#.WuimOcgh1jc

But the traditional wedding kimono? No, I think that would be (very) inappropriate.

Do you mean that it would be inappropriate to wear for fun/cosplay? Or for an actual wedding? Or both? I don't really see how it's more inappropriate than Japanese people wearing traditional Western wedding gowns, as many now do, or even reproducing Christian churches inside hotels as part of a Western wedding "package", as here. Of course, some people may find that inappropriate too. Not me, I hasten to add, but then I'm not a Christian, and can't really speak on the matter. More to the point, the church in question was happy for it to happen.

Especially at weddings and other ritual occasions, the distinction between dressing and dressing up often seems a pretty hard one to sustain, but that's probably another post.

yes, you're probably right that it is more flexible than I thought. I just thought that the closer it got to something actually considered sacred, the less I would find it appropriate - but I suppose that would depend on the spirit in which you're doing it, and how to judge that? I find myself chuckling when someone complains about appropriate, say, about western author using some traditional Japanese elements in a fantasy novel (or even an AU based on Japanese history), when manga/anime seems pretty often to use western and specifically Christian images - sometimes as 'color' but other times as central to the story.

Your thoughts are my thoughts, particularly with Japanese culture. As one who has several interactions per week with Japanese people living in Japan, Japanese people (in my personal interactions) do not seem to understand the sensitivity or issues that we encounter with appropriation. They get excited when I show them Japanese toys, artifacts, games, and clothing I have collected or worn. While I understand the natural behavior is one of politeness, when I'm speaking English with Japanese people, they are far more blunt about their opinions and thoughts than I think they would be if we were speaking Japanese (for example, some of them voice their disagreement about my having tattoos while others squee in excitement and others pretend they don't exist).

Every year my local zoo hosts a Japanese lantern festival, even though we don't have a large Japanese population in our state (we do, however, have very large Hmong and Somali populations). There are many Japanese festival activites and food, and people are encouraged to wear traditional garb such as yukatas. The booths and activities are a mixture of Japanese and American people. It's all just very interesting and complex.

While I understand the natural behavior is one of politeness, when I'm speaking English with Japanese people, they are far more blunt about their opinions and thoughts than I think they would be if we were speaking Japanese (for example, some of them voice their disagreement about my having tattoos while others squee in excitement and others pretend they don't exist).

I recognise that. I suspect that, for some people, speaking to foreigners can be a kind of safety valve after all that tatemae.

Well, it seems to me that pretty much all of Asia has adopted Western clothing (alas).

I was very struck when I read A Passage to India (about 40 years ago) by Forster's observation that "European costume had lighted like a leprosy". But it's a complicated thing, when you try to untangle Forster's Western guilt and the presumed motivations of the Indians living under British rule.

Japan is perhaps a simpler case, since colonialism in the traditional sense wasn't involved in their adoption of Western dress.

Ditto China. That is, they have a complicated history, having to do with the cultural revolution. (This was told me by a Chinese herself, and I've seen other evidence.)

The Japanese have a long historical tradition of bringing home ideas and objects from other cultures (Chinese characters, Buddhism, Chinese ideas of government, Western art and design) and re-purposing and adapting them.

I was born in New Orleans, and the idea of cultural fusions and adaptations is bred into my bones. And I'm old-school postmodern: creolisation and bricolage are second nature to me.

So that leaves me in my flat on summer nights drinking shochu and eating Thai food and pacing the floor listening to NZ reggae and toying with an Abyssinian broadsword. Yes--- sometimes in a Tuareg face veil. And--- Anglican-raised more-or-less atheist that I am, longing to be a lay cardinal with a palazzo in Milan, with my all-Slavic supermodel Cardinal's Guard.

If I can't read Pretty Petra Pope, I'll settle for that.