Kimono aren’t cosplay

Don’t do it y’all, just don’t do it.

In about two weeks it’s Anime Boston, one of my favorite things ever in the city. Anime fans from all over are spotted across the city in different styles of cosplay, earning weird (almost scared) looks from normal people everywhere. I love cosplay, both wearing it and photographing it. But there’s one trend, specifically in the anime community, that needs to stop: wearing a kimono as a costume. AKA: cultural appropriation.

“Cultural appropriation” isn’t a new term, a lot of people have heard it and now at this point (depending who you are) the first reaction is immediate eye rolling. But in case there’s still some sort of gray area about it, look at the definition when you flat-out Google the phrase: “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

For a majority of people, the biggest and most egregious examples are the obvious ones: black face, bad accents, Native American headdresses, “discovering exotic foods,” and wearing ponchos on May 5. Or at least, I really hope those are the obvious no-no’s for most people; I know they’re not, but that’s what articles like this one from Everyday Feminism are for.

But back to kimono and cosplay. In the anime and fan community, it’s a bit harder for people to register why kimono aren’t cosplay. When cosplayers dress up in kimono, there’s a list of common defenses every time. So here’s my breakdown of why each of those reasons don’t really hold up––specifically about cosplays and fan conventions, but also just a rule of thumb in general.

It’s not “unacknowledged” or “inappropriate,” this is an anime convention, and since anime and kimono are Japanese it’s acknowledged and appropriate.

Would you wear a hanbok to a K-pop concert? No, please no, that would be absurd. Then don’t wear a kimono to an anime convention. Anime is just a part of Japanese culture, it does not represent the entirety. Don’t just pick and choose the fun/ pretty parts for the sake of the ‘Gram.

But I’m appreciating Japanese culture by wearing it! This is culturally accurate, look at how I tied it! Everything is by the book.

Cool, I respect the effort and research, I really do; still not the appropriate time and place, as per the above reason. I get walking the line between appreciating vs appropriating a culture, and a large part of that means understanding the time, place, and context. Visiting a Japanese temple where it’s encouraged to learn about and maybe wear a kimono? Cool, do it. Walking around the Boston Common with a paper parasol for funsies? Not the same thing, my dude.

This is just my take on the outfit, it’s a reinterpretation.

If you’re white (just gonna say it) and want to be the scouts of Sailor Moon but in kimono, that’s not interpretation. The adoption of clothes or styles by “people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society” isn’t interpretation, it’s an assertion of colonization and imperialism that says your customs are my plaything. That’s why if a non-white person dresses up as Queen Victoria or Alexander Hamilton, it’s not appropriation; they’re not the dominant people/ culture.

But, I will say, if you’re a non-Japanese (and non-white) person and you do a really cool interpretation of something iconic, like the Sailor Scouts, that’s amazing. It’s different if you take an already-set/ popular design and interpret it in a new way that reflects you, your culture (that’s not a dominant one––and for many within the Asian diaspora, Japanese culture is dominant in the way all East Asian cultures are dominant), and your creativity.

No, this character did wear a kimono. In episode 503, scene 8, when they went to the bathhouse that one time.

Unless wearing a kimono is essential to the character and-or plot––like you never see them ever wear anything else (Samurai Champloo)––then you probably don’t have to wear a kimono. So if the above statement is your argument then it seems like you’re already aware that wearing a kimono as cosplay is not a smart move, but you went a head and did it anyway.

Also, just putting this out there: if the character isn’t even Japanese, why tf are you dressing up in a kimono? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever and you look like a fool.

It’s just a costume, calm down. It’s just for fun.

That’s the whole point of why this bothers me and in the end, is a harmful attitude. Blank character but in a kimono isn’t cosplay, that’s laziness and blatant disregard for the culture. It is a few hours of make-believe that at the end of the day you will shuck and return to your normal life. The traditional clothing of a culture should never be a costume; it has meaning, and history, and often pain tied to it so stripping out the context flattens all of that into a cheap hobby.

This year’s Anime Boston theme is “Tales of the Shogunate” which is practically inviting people to wear kimono. But please, think it through, and just don’t do it y’all. Just don’t do it.

5 thoughts on “Kimono aren’t cosplay

  1. Kagame November 9, 2019 / 7:56 PM

    You’re annoying. And just because some one wants to dress in a traditional outfit, doesnt mean its offensive. It’s not my fault I wasn’t born in that country. Get the panties out of your butthole. And stop being offended by everything.


  2. Tolu July 4, 2020 / 11:14 PM

    bruh who are you to tell someone whether or not to be offended ur not of that culture so you dont get to designate ur literally wearing someones culture as a costume and you dont even understand it.


  3. k0ru July 11, 2020 / 3:03 AM

    so is it okay for me to cosplay a character who wears traditional japanese clothes 90% time of the show? some of the characters i wanna do wear a kimono, yukata, haori, geta sandals most of the time and i just wanna be careful


    • Psych July 16, 2020 / 8:38 PM

      I do believe that if the character you are cosplaying is well known for wearing traditional Japanese clothing, then it would be alright to wear that. But do keep in mind that it is a part of Japanese culture and make sure to properly wear the kimono, geta sandals, etc. I hope that helped!!


  4. Sunglasses Ron July 25, 2020 / 4:33 AM

    Every culture that has ever existed took inspiration or outright copied the best ideas from others to strengthen and improve their own. Is it cultural appropriation to eat in Chinese restaurants if you’re not from that culture? Is it cultural appropriation for a person of colour to straighten their hair or dye it blonde? It wasn’t deemed a bad thing when ancestors were copying farming techniques or medicine that other cultures had developed. It’s silly to imply that enjoying the things that other cultures have taught us is somehow offensive or damaging to others. Would you have us all sepperated into our culturally appropriate boxes? Italians eat in the Italian restaurant, Indians eat in the Indian restaurant, Japanese people dress in their traditional dress but no one else can? That’s called segregation and is the definition of seperate society which I thought you were supposed to be against?


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