Is It Rude To Wear Kimono?

Experiences

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Rob Dyer The Real Japan

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Is It Rude To Wear Kimono?

So, do you think it is rude for foreigners to wear Kimono?

I had said no without any doubts. However, my answer now has become somewhat complicated.

Here's why...


rude to wear kimono The Real Japan Saki Yoshida

Is It Rude (For Non-Japanese) to Wear Kimono?
by Saki Yoshida

Changing Fashions in Japan

Growing up as Japanese, I had no chance to learn to put on a kimono by myself until recently, which may come as a surprise for some of you.

Since Japanese people started to wear western clothes for daily purposes, kimono have become uncommon, that cost a lot, and are supposed to be worn only on special occasions. 

But this shouldn’t be so. 

As a result, most Japanese today do not have the opportunity to learn how to put on a kimono properly. Until we wish to, and then we believe we need a professional dresser to show us how to do it. When I started live streaming, my interests towards kimono grew stronger.

RELATED: Secret Moments of Maikos


Japan's Coming of Age Ceremony

Japan's Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Ceremony,  celebrates all those who have reached the age of maturity, currently 20 years old. Ceremonies marking the passage into adulthood have happened in Japan since 714 CE. This was during the reign of Empress Genmei when a young prince wore new robes and a hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood.

kimono Senso-ji temple Tokyo Sofia Monteiro The Real Japan

Young kimono wearers at Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo

It occured to me that I was fascinated by how beautiful my kimono were when I attended the Coming of Age Ceremony. Or how excited I was after putting my kimono on in general.

EXPLORE: Kimono wearing experiences in Kyoto

I tried to figure out how I can make the best of this beauty on my own without anyone else’s help, whenever and wherever I want.  Ultimately, my goal has become to travel outside Japan while bringing my own kimono to share its beauty with the world. 


Expensive Kimono and Cultural Critics

Starting off, I signed up on a kimono fitting course and attended the classes with a group of people. It took a little while until I mastered a decent technique. To be honest, it felt as though kimono were only for people in older generations, or people who can afford very expensive kimono sashes.

I am fortunate. I own good kimono from my family and didn’t have to buy them all. But I can easily imagine that people, especially younger generations who aren’t familiar with kimono at all, wouldn’t be able to spend so much money on it. 

Additionally, what confused me is that some Japanese people seem to be strict or critical of how other Japanese people wear kimono. I could see many reasons why the kimono industry is struggling.

rude to wear kimono The Real Japan Saki Yoshida

Saki has travelled outside Japan wearing kimono

I also found myself being insecure about wearing kimono.  Not feeling comfortable with walking around in Japan because I knew my kimono fitting wasn’t perfect. Or I was afraid that I may do something wrong which could offend other Japanese people who knew better than me. 

I didn’t like this aspect of Japanese society. But I ended up understanding their perspective from bitter experience when I lived in Germany.

DISCOVER: Kimono wearing experiences in Tokyo


Travelling Outside Japan Wearing Kimono

After finishing the kimono fitting course, I traveled mostly in Europe and wore a kimono on my own. It was such an amazing experience and I enjoyed noticing how people reacted differently based on their own cultural background.

While in Germany for a year, I had the chance to join a group of people who enjoy kimono like myself. Most of them were non Japanese and, honestly, I didn’t care about their nationalities.

I was genuinely happy to know that kimono are loved by people from outside Japan. Seeing that wearing kimono connects like-minded people who are interested in my home country or Japanese culture.

However, my experience wasn’t always positive.

rude to wear kimono The Real Japan Saki Yoshida

A passion for kimono can bring people from different countries together

Is It Disrespectful To Wear Kimono?

One day, I came across a photo from the kimono group where, in my eyes, someone wore her kimono in a way that sex workers (Oiran/Yujo) would. Back then, I should’ve asked about her intention first. I believed there were also foreign people who wear kimono in an inappropriate way without meaning to. 

I posted in a group to warn people to be careful about how some kimono fitting can be taken in the wrong way by some Japanese. I thought I was being helpful. However, I was not expecting some of the responses my post received. 

Most people reacted very negatively. Told me how offensive I was. Explained to me how insecure they have felt while wearing kimono as non-Japanese. It shocked me because I had never thought that I was being offensive, rather, my intention was only intended to be supportive. 

RELATED: Secret Moments of Maikos

rude to wear kimono The Real Japan Saki Yoshida

Saki wearing kimono in Italy

I’m now back living in Japan. Looking back, I could probably have expressed my thoughts more clearly. 

The moment I realized that I too had behaved as another critical Japanese to them was eye opening, and an interesting discovery for me as well. 

Since then, I began to better understand the perspective of some in Japan who are critical of others wearing kimono. In being critical, they may just want to preserve our culture in the best way. 

RELATED: Just A Japanese Girl (Some Secrets For A Japan Trip)


Using Kimono Rental and Experience Services

Getting the chance to wear an authentic kimono while in Japan is a wonderful way for anyone to experience traditional Japanese culture. It can be a fun activity for children too.

You usually don't have to communicate much after you’ve made your booking and once you show up at the store. So I would recommend finding rental shops available in English first, that allow you to book online or by email. (We Japanese tend to do much better in writing English than speaking it.)

kimono rental shop voyagin The Real Japan

Kimono rental store near Dogo Onsen, Ehime

Then, make sure that you arrive a bit earlier than the scheduled time or at least on time. Shop staff will show you what is available, which design, carry out the kimono fitting and will attend to everything you need. Even if you cannot speak Japanese, choosing kimono, sash and the fitting process should be fine.

I can however point out things you should know before and after you leave the shop and walk around in the streets.


Tips For Using Rental Services & Wearing A Kimono

kimono Nagoya voyagin The Real Japan

Kimono walking experience in Nagoya

  • Allow Time - Of course, it depends on which type of kimono you wear, but generally, it takes at least 20-30 mins to complete the kimono fitting, so it is better to go to the toilet in advance. 
  • Don't Change Kimono - You can NOT take it off once they are done with the kimono fitting. They may charge you extra if you want to change another kimono later on.
  • Be Comfortable - You should not hesitate to tell shop staff when you don't feel comfortable or if it feels too tight while the kimono is fitted. It is totally OK to let them know how you feel. 
  • Take Few Belongings - Keep the amount of belongings you take with you to the fitting as few as you can. It's unusual to carry a big bag while wearing a kimono. If you bring too much stuff, you may not be able to carry it all. Things like a face towel, small cosmetic bag, phone and valuables are enough.
  • Going To The Toilet - When you go to the toilet, you do NOT touch the obi (sash) part, but roll up the clothes from the underneath. Watch out for water, because kimono can be easily damaged by water.
  • Take Small Steps - Do not take big steps or stride when you walk, or your kimono will lose its shape. Lots of small steps work best.
  • Asking For Help - There are members of the public that are willing to help you in case your kimono is messed up/loses shape, especially in Kyoto. I encountered some nice ladies that helped me fix it when my kimono got untidy.  I don't know about other areas, but in touristic places like Kyoto and Tokyo, you could ask for help and it's likely some people will be happy to.

BROWSE: Kimono Rental Experiences in Japan


Some non-Japanese are concerned if it is cultural appropriation to wear kimono in Japan. I honestly don't believe that Japanese people get offended when foreigners wear kimono, or if when they do their kimono gets a bit out of shape. It would be a rare thing if a Japanese expressed offence to that.

We would rather make nice compliments and be glad to see it, and be willing to help you should you have any problems. 


The Positive Power of Kimono

My answer to the initial question “Do you think it is rude for foreigners to wear kimono?” has become more complicated now that I have conflicting feelings inside.

A part of me loves it when I see kimono representing a different culture in the other parts of the world. Non-Japanese wearing kimono connects us, like a bridge connecting Japan with other countries. 

rude to wear kimono The Real Japan Saki Yoshida

Saki wearing a kimono in Germany

On the other hand though, I would love to keep my culture as it is, and for people to present the real image of kimono and show some respect, too. I haven’t yet found my definitive answer. 

However, what I know for sure is the positive power of people wearing kimono. The power to make people smile and be happy, whether they come from Japan, or not. I am here, being proud of having this culture as a part of me. 

So, if you are worried about wearing a kimono as a non-Japanese, rest assured that we would smile at you and happily say “You look beautiful in it.

RELATED: Secret Moments of Maikos 

Saki Yoshida The Real Japan


About the Author

Saki Yoshida is an online Japanese tutor, born and raised in Japan. She livestreams about her passion for traditional Japanese culture and kimono, and loves sharing her perspective and knowledge about Japan across social media and at JustAJapaneseGirl.

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rude to wear kimono The Real Japan Saki Yoshida

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  • I really enjoyed this article. I have worn kimono twice in Japan over the years and I loved it so much but was starting to worry it was actually offensive to some. For me it s a way to express my love for Japanese culture.

    • Thanks Kim, it’s great to hear you’ve worn kimono in Japan as a foreigner as a way of expressing your love for the culture!

    • Thank you for reading and leaving a comment Kim. I am glad you enjoyed my article! Do not worry about wearing Kimono in Japan, especially when it is a way for you to express your love for Japanese culture. Please keep wearing it. We appreciate your love :)

  • Many foreigners in Japan (and some even after leaving Japan) wear kimono on a regular basis because as immigrants to Japan it’s as much a part of their life and their culture as jeans or suits might be to a Japanese American. To suggest that it would be rude for them to have an active role in the culture of ten country they call home and that they have been a part of for a large chunk of their lives is plain racist. Perhaps instead of using the word “foreigners”- which includes anyone who doesn’t have a Japanese passport regardless of whether they are born and raised in Japan or have lived there for decades, you could use the word “tourists”, to avoid the racist implications of lumping everyone together as one big monolithic block.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Twitchit.

      No-one here is suggesting it is rude to wear kimono, merely sharing experiences of wearing kimono in response to one of the common questions asked by people who are interested in coming to Japan, thinking about wearing kimono, but want to understand how (Japanese) people might respond to that.

      Hopefully, this post helps explain some of the issues and reassures them that their most likely to be well-received.

  • I hope many people enjoy wearing Kimono in Japan / out of Japan😊
    I think how wear kimono is the point for Japanese people. As most of Japanese people respect / treat Kimono as “almost” holly clothes for special occasions (New Year / Wedding / Celebrations).
    So when I see someone (no matter Japanese citizens or not) wears Kimono disrespectfully (I often see weird Kimono styles in Anime industry), then I see myself / Japanese culture cheaply and I would hate to see the person represents Japanese / the culture incorrectly.
    Especially after I learnt about Maiko / Geiko (Geisha)’ lives and how hard their jobs are, I respect more Kimono.
    I know a lot people (include Japanese citizens) got a wrong information about Geisha(Geiko = upper level than Maiko). They are not prostitutes. They are hostesses at Tea rooms.
    Also, Oiran is not Sex workers, they don’t sleep with many men, they are so expensive that normal people can’t even afford them easily. I really wish that you didn’t describe them as “Sex Workers” though.

    • Thank you Sakura for your comments and feedback.

      I hope too that more people in (or out of) Japan get to experience wearing kimono.

      I agree with you about how hard the lives of Maiko / Geiko are, I’m sure many people do not understand this.

      My review of the book Secret Moments of Maiko touches on this:
      https://www.therealjapan.com/secret-moments-of-maikos/

    • Hello Sakura, thank you for reading and your feedback. Yes, how they wear matters to me as I wrote. I agree with you too, when people wear Kimono without the cultural knowledge, which could upset me as well. But I guess I am more open minded and chilled.

      From my personal experience, I have not met Japanese people who get offended by non-Japanese people wearing Kimono so easily… (I have seen many non Japanese people discussing this topic and honestly, I wanted to share it as Japanese). That being said, I respect it when people have different standards/boundaries about Kimono styles just like us.

      I am sorry if I offend you when it comes to Oiran. That was not my intention. I’ve learned “Oiran” as one of the Yujo (sex workers) but who are in a higher status. I didn’t mean that they sleep with many men, in fact, I state the fact (the category) in a neutral way. I am aware that they are still different from Geisha/Maiko and I hate that many people think that they are prostitutes as well. I meant “Oiran” as a sexual object (men paid for them for sexual entertainments etc) in this context as opposed to Kimono worn by normal citizens/people and nothing more. I didn’t mean to disrespect any professions here.

      As an author, it is difficult to convey my emotions/thoughts through texts and of course, I may not get all correct. I am still learning. However, what I am trying to do here is to help people have the perspective from someone from Japan and avoid conflicts in the future. I am still happy to see people enjoying different culture and it would be such a waste if people hesitated to do this because of this reason or unnecessary fear (which is the main purpose why I wrote this).

      Thanks for your understanding. Have a great day!

  • Your heading is very very stupid and may put foreigner right off of wearing kimono in Japan
    I visited Japan 4 times and the only cloth I was wearing was kimono for man and even on few occasions hakama with obi belts
    Nihon Jin love to see gaijins wearing kimono : female and male alike
    They smile and compliment you ” I kimono desune!!!)
    You also wrong and misleading about not taking items with you!!! Yes I agree that your suitcase must stay at the hotel but at the kimono rentals they offer you many virieties of special kimono begs of various sizes and capacities and suited for a particular kimono you are wearing!!
    In some bags you can fir small obento box!!!
    Your headings remind me something like: would be offensive eating Japanese food like soba noodles ( same things as kimono) or maybe we should bring from our countries ham and tomato sandwiches or dry frozen food from bushwalking shops…. god forbid – nihon Jin will get very very upset if they see you eating nihon food and may smash your bowl with food on the table… I think it’s true analogy
    Please think about what you write for inexperienced gaijins and don’t make future tourist stressed about wearing kimonos
    I wear everything in Japan kimonos Jim beys someware etc etc I even make my own beg using furoshiki cloth and it’s not insulting for nihon Jin – they love it!!!!
    The only thing gaijin must be carefull is using family kamon on their kimono
    Some nihon Jin don’t like it but generally it’s also acceptable…..
    Thanks for your post
    No hard feeling

    • Hi Sasha – thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and views.

      The purpose of the article was to share experiences of wearing kimono to help reassure non-Japanese about the questions they may have around the title “Is it rude to wear kimono?” – as this is a very common question.

      I hope Saki’s article helps explain some of the potential issues and helps answer some of the questions around the subject, to encourage more foreigners to visit Japan and to experience Japanese culture – including wearing kimono if they wish to.

  • First of all, please forgive me for being long-winded.
    I don’t have the talent to keep my sentences short…haha😅

    In my personal opinion, it is impossible for many Japanese to understand why Caucasians wearing kimonos in the West is often criticized as cultural appropriation.
    The Japanese don’t label their culture as “this is for Japanese only”, so most Japanese don’t think it’s cultural appropriation or racism when Caucasians wear kimonos.
    For example, if a Caucasian wears a kimono that looks like a courtesan, most Japanese will just think “Eh?🤔” and not consider it an insult or disrespect to Japanese culture.
    I think there are some Japanese who laugh or are surprised when they see it, but no one gets angry.
    They simply think, “You are just ignorant of Japanese culture”.
    Most of the time, most Japanese are very tolerant of “cultural appropriation”.
    However, they are not so forgiving when it comes to significant misuse of Japanese culture.
    For example, when Kim Kardashian named her brand of underwear “KIMONO”, many Japanese criticized her, and even a kimono shop in Kyoto complained to her.
    If she had used the name “KIMONO” for clothing and cosmetics that reminded people of kimono, there would have been no such criticism.
    In fact, when Rihanna got into trouble for naming one of her cosmetics brands “Geisha Chic Hunny,” many Japanese people reacted by saying, “Why would this be a problem?🤔”.
    Lastly, I would like to point out that these are my own personal impressions.

    • No need to apologise for the length of your reply Shikibu, thanks for taking the time to comment – it’s interesting to read!

      I pretty much agree with all the points you make. :-)

  • Lemon girl says:

    Konnichiwa!!!

    I really love japanese culture and I would like to visit Japan someday.
    My plan was to wear kimono in Japan but now I got a bit worried if I will disrespect japanese culture, as I’m Finnish and not related to Japan in any way.
    So is it disrespecting or “stealing the culture” if I wear kimono?

    By the way, the article was really good :) , but I’m still a bit unsure.

    • Thanks for your question.

      In short, you will not be viewed as ‘stealing’ Japanese culture if you wear a kimono and you are respectful when doing so.

      In fact, many Japanese would be pleased to see you wear a kimono as it demonstrates your passion for Japanese culture.

  • Eric and Rob, what an interesting post. We always want to be completely mindful of cultural views anytime we don clothes from said culture…especially in as mindful a nation as Japan. Kelli donned the kimono for a few pictures when we spent 1 year teaching English in Hiroshima. She wore it well, appropriately and respectfully, along with a few Japanese friends she made during her stay. Super post, good message.

    Ryan

    • Thanks Ryan (I’m guessing Eric is a autocorrect typo for Saki?!). I bet when you and Kelli look at her kimono photos it brings back fond memories. Dressing like a local will surely be more memorable than one’s regular clothes!

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