Earlier this summer the Museum of Fine Arts Boston held a weekly kimono dress-up event in conjunction with its exhibition of La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume) by Claude Monet that featured the famed Impressionist’s first wife dressed in kimono and posing with a fan. Museum visitors were invited to try on a replica of Camille’s kimono and have their photos taken in front of the painting. This sparked nationwide outrage among many Asian Americans who claimed the Museum was guilty of cultural appropriation. Because the Asian American community tends to cry “racism!” every time Angry Asian Man updates his blog, the protests were intense enough to force the Museum to cancel its kimono dress-up event.
While I know that cultural appropriation certainly exists, I don’t see why there was outrage over this particular event. Not having seen it in person, I may not be qualified to judge its merits, but in reading this and other articles on the topic, it seems the only thing MFA Boston is guilty of is not having as much written material about the Japanese influence on Impressionism. They could have had more qualified people assisting with the kimono dressing and the dissemination of more detailed information about the garment.
Is the Japanese American community guilty of a double standard? Last year at Japanese Heritage Night at Citi Field, several members of Japanese American organizations to which I belong encouraged non-Japanese to dress in various Japanese “costumes” such as kimono, yukata, and samurai and ninja garb. The Consulate has a samurai outfit for visitors to wear at street fairs and other Japanese-related events, and there is a tent specifically for dressing guests in yukata at Japan Day. Here in New York there are businesses staffed by Japanese kimono experts who dress people in kimono for special occasions. Does this mean that if a Japanese organization sanctions these activities, then it’s okay for non-Japanese to wear kimono? If it’s no problem for Japanese Americans to encourage non-Japanese to play dress up, then why do we find fault when an institution such as MFA Boston does the same thing?
Many native Japanese in New York took no issue with MFA Boston’s event, and some were even thrilled that such an activity was held. “Monet’s wife was the first cosplayer!” exclaimed one of my friends.
“I feel very pleased that many people are interested in Japanese style,” says Japanese kimono stylist Hiromi Asai, who recently ended a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $66,000 to help fund a kimono show she will organize for next spring’s New York Fashion Week.
Like Asai, we here at JapanCulture•NYC embrace the fact that Japanese culture has a profound influence on all kinds of New Yorkers. Our Fashion Editor, Jen Green, is always meeting people whose appreciation of Japanese fashion is reflected in their personal sense of style. She found many non-Japanese proudly wearing kimono and yukata at this year’s Sakura Matsuri at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and she compiled her list of Top 10 Favorite Looks.
Lucky Jen is spending the week in Tokyo to check out the street fashion and to become inspired by what’s trending in Japan these days, which she will incorporate in her job as an accessories designer. We’re wondering whom she’ll encounter on the streets of Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. Maybe she’ll see people like the ones she spoke to at Sakura Matsuri, or perhaps she’ll spot what people will be wearing next year.
Each year, Sakura Matsuri at Brooklyn Botanic Garden gives New Yorkers the perfect chance to show off fabulous Japan-inspired outfits. Whether your style is a vintage kimono, cosplay inspired by your favorite character, or subculture fashion plucked from the streets of Japan, Sakura Matsuri is the perfect opportunity to be seen. Each year many come to the festival to showcase their DIY creations or wearing a look carefully curated from shopping in Japan or purchasing Japanese brands online. Here are some great looks from Sunday April 26:
From: New Paltz, NY
Outfit Inspiration: Sparkle Pixie from Love Live! School Idol Project cosplay. Skirt is DIY.
Names: Jasmine & Leilani
Outfit Inspiration: Harajuku Kawaii scene
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Yes!
Names: Lizzette, Tai, Terryann, and Suki
From: Two from Brooklyn and two from Queens
Outfit Inspiration: Their love of anime and building outfits around a favorite piece
Names: Crissy & Scott
From: Queens and New Jersey
Outfit Inspiration: Traditional Japanese looks. Crissy collects yukata and wanted to debut her newest one.
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Started attending in 2004 and have been eight or nine times throughout the years.
Outfit Inspiration: Originally from Okinawa, she made her outfit and loves to show off her creations.
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Has attended eight or nine festivals
Names: Two girls (unnamed)
Outfit Inspiration: Vintage Kimonos
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Came the day before, loved it so much they got dressed up and came back!
From: Queens, NY
Outfit Inspiration: Loves cosplay
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Second time at the festival, but first time dressing up
Names: Joan & Angela
From: Bronx and Manhattan
Outfit Inspiration: Ciel Phantomhive and Black Butler Natsu Dragonville Fairytale cosplay
Outfit Inspiration: Kirito from Sword Art Online cosplay
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Yes
Name: Steamed Eggs
Outfit Inspiration: She wanted to choose something family friendly for the event, so she went with Hello Kitty.
First time attending Sakura Matsuri?: Third time attending, but first time dressing up.
To follow Jen’s fashion escapades during her week in Tokyo, check out her Instagram account @jenpanese. For more photos from Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri, please peruse JC•NYC’s Flickr album.