One Japanese man counterprotested the protesters of Kimono Wednesday to say he is not offended and even encouraged others to join him at future counterprotests. (via

One Japanese man counterprotested the Kimono Wednesday protests to say he is not offended and even encouraged others to join him at future counterprotests. (via

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently cancelled an event they had called “Kimono Wednesdays,” that, according to the museum, sought to engage people by arranging enhanced encounters with works of art. The function was organized around the display of Claude Monet’s “La Japonaise” (1876) a painting of the artist’s wife, surrounded by fans, wearing a blond wig and a bright red kimono. When the program began visitors were given the opportunity to put on a kimono similar to the one depicted in the painting, and were encouraged to pose for photographs and share those images on social media using the tag “‪#‎mfaBoston‬!” The New York Observer, speaking with the MFA’s Deputy Director Katie Getchell, reported that, “The idea was to give visitors a ‘tactile experience’ with the kimonos made in Japan ‘to understand and experience the painting in a new way’.”

Protesters and visitors at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. (via BBC)

Protesters and visitors at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. (via BBC)

However, many visitors regarded the event as typecasting and exoticizing Asian Americans. The first night of the promotion a small protest took place, and during the second occurrence three protesters confronted the museum, placing themselves near the exhibit, displaying signs such as “Try on the kimono, learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist !!!today!!!” Some of the protesters within the Boston community organized a Facebook Page, “Stand Against Yellow Face,” and the MFA’s own Facebook page was inundated with posts denouncing the museum for creating an event that some characterized as blatantly racist. After initially defending the program, the museum backed down, only allowing subsequent visitors to touch the garment, issued an apology, and promised to create more presentations led by museum educators.

There is a great deal to unpack here, so let’s begin with the claims. These are principally that at worst the museum produced a racist event, or at the least one that was culturally insensitive and exploitive. These accusations are grounded in the conviction that the propagation of racial stereotypes and the encouragement of cultural appropriation are part and parcel of what is in essence a Western imperialist project that seeks to colonize the cultures of non-European people. The “Stand Against Yellow Face” page displays the imperative: “Stop Orientalism.” Orientalism, a conceptual framework for understanding historical representations of the “Orient” created by Edward Said in his book of the same name, is the key idea underpinning the protests. Briefly, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Orientalism influenced the academic discipline of postcolonial studies, which is concerned with “practices of representation that reproduce a logic of subordination that endures even after former colonies gain independence.” Basically, according to Stanford’s encyclopedia, Said demonstrated that “‘knowing the Orient,’ was part of the project of dominating it.” On the face of it, the protesters have a valid argument.

However, on examination complications emerge. We might conclude that the museum was actively disseminating racial stereotypes, but “La Japonaise,” according to the Boston Globe, is believed by art historians to be representative of Monet poking fun at the late 19th century movement known as Japonisme (English version: Japonism). Unfortunately the Globe leaves these historians unnamed so these waters remain rather muddy. Still, we do know that the movement consisted of a brief European obsession with Japanese art following on the decision by the Tokugawa Shogunate to commence international trade with the West. If indeed Monet was poking fun at practices of cultural appropriation then his own meta-critique of that exoticizing of Japanese art and culture is lost in the protest maelstrom that presumes no such awareness. More simply trying on the Kimono does not seem to me to cross the threshold into appropriation. It is a more intimate way to engage with the garment, its materiality, its weight and feel. However the museum left itself bare to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when it encouraged visitors to take photos while wearing the kimono. Creating an image of a seeming act of costuming does suggest that visitors can pretend to be someone who might have traditionally worn a kimono. This is cultural consumption on the cheap. This is problematic. It is especially so if, as the protesters claim, this event took place in the absence of information on the garment’s origin, historical significance, or uses.

However, protesters have been too quick to use the term “racist” to describe this program. To suggest, as one commenter has, that this event is akin to visitors attending museums to see people from Africa in cages, is a mistake. To be racist is to employ or advance the rhetoric and (economic, social and political) practices of reducing another human being to a set of signs (within a certain pre-existing hierarchy) that are primarily physical features, and thereby dehumanize him or her. I do not see that happening here, particularly because the woman being mimicked is Camille Monet, who is signifying a type of ridiculous European posture vis-à-vis fascination with Japanese art.

More, there is a kind of megalomania at work here with protesters conflating Japonisme with stereotyped images of Asian-Americans. The Japanese are not the same as, nor should they be confused with Chinese, Korean, Laotian, Vietnamese or Thai. The Japanese were a colonial power. In the late 19th century they willfully provided their art for Western consumption and consciously contributed to its circulation in markets fueled by exoticized fascination with the East. It is shoddy and scattershot thinking to imagine that the stereotype of the Chinese Dragon Lady is somehow being evoked by the donning of a kimono. It is telling that similar events offered in Japanese museums — The Setagaya in Tokyo, The Kyoto Municapal Museum, and The Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts — while “La Japonaise” was on loan there were a smashing success, not to mention that the kimono itself was commissioned by a Japanese television broadcaster (original source). This success is part of the reason the MFA adopted a similar program. Indeed all the people who identified as Japanese in the comments to the NY Times article about the brouhaha expressed confusion and perplexity at the protests. This is to say that our kind of American racialized thinking is not universal and may not be needed by the people who are ostensibly being protected from exploitive practices.

For me, the worst aspect of this debacle is that it feeds the notion that culture is a kind of precious object that may only be doled out to those outside the specific culture by those designated as appropriate cultural handlers. I do believe that culture is a precious resource. However in the view propagated by the Boston protesters, the emphasis for non-Westerners should be on guarding and regulating the representation of culture, instead of making it available in ways that are productive to a more profound understanding. I do not want to be cultural cop. That’s not work I need to be doing. We would benefit more from critical thinkers rather than gatekeepers. We are merely opportunistic and short-sighted when we close down conversations on the basis of sloppy thinking fueled by indignation.

The museum responded to the social media messages and the protesters, initially defensively, but then just retreated. This was an opportunity to really engage the museum in a conversation around cultural appropriation and useful types of enhanced interaction and Japonisme. This chance seemingly has fled because of fear and the protesters mistaking umbrage for insight. We need to allow people to play with charged cultural symbols. This is how we learn. Museum visitors should not be learning the lessons of fearing an engagement with cultures not their own, even if they don’t get it right the first time.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...

182 replies on “The Confused Thinking Behind the Kimono Protests at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts”

  1. Perhaps this isn’t “akin to visitors attending museums to see people from Africa in cages” but I’d say it was closer to inviting visitors to don blackface and put on a minstrel show. “To be racist is to employ or advance the rhetoric and…practices of reducing another human being to a set of signs…that are primarily physical features, and thereby dehumanize him or her”: so, “Indian” headdresses at Coachella are not racist? Sure, Japanese imperialism complicates things but the exoticization of a non-European culture is racist no matter how you try to explain it away. And I’d say a non-Asian trying to explain to Asians that what they feel is not genuine and not racist is troubling.

    1. Dear fresh,

      Thanks for your comment. To be fair, I am not trying to explain to Asians that what they feel is not genuine. I am trying to explain that feeling and thinking are two very distinct arenas of operation. You may feel it, but that feeling may not be supported by clear, rational consideration, and thus may under analysis be shown to be more indignation than insight. I presented an argument as to why the event may well be considered cultural appropriation but not racist. Please deal with the evidence I’ve presented and the logic by which I move through it.

      Also, I’m disturbed by the notion you seem to be forwarding that no one else besides Asians can weigh in on this issue. Really? You want to Balkanize this issue like that, and think that move is justified? And finally, I’m not trying to explain something to only Asians; I am making an argument to everyone interested in this event.

      1. Your reply (and article) brilliantly counter the anti-intellectualism, stubborn divisiveness, cheap indignation, and over-use of analogy that predominate in all discussions of cultural appropriation (and other power dynamics that have been reduced to Twitter hashtags.) Bravo!

    2. Analogies are the weak possible way of making an argument. Black people don’t wear blackface. Japanese people do wear kimonos and they have no religious or specific racial meaning.

      “non-Asian trying to explain to Asians that what they feel is not genuine and not racist is troubling.”

      Asians trying to speak for all Asians is also troubling. There was a counter protest of Japanese people wearing kimonos in defiance of the protesters, very few of whom were Japanese.

    3. No, this isn’t akin to inviting visitors to put on blackface, and the late-19th century Europeans who were so enchanted by japonisme weren’t engaging in the equivalent of blackface, either.

      The practice of blackface was a purposeful mockery of black Americans and their culture.

      The 19th-century Europeans who fueled japonisme weren’t trying on kimonos and buying Japanese screens and pottery and artwork in order to mock the Japanese and their culture. They were doing it because they thought Japanese stuff was cool. And they were spending a lot of money to do it.

      (Same with chinoiserie, by the way.)

      It’s no more racist-imperialist than is buying and wearing (or using in art) Hello Kitty or manga-themed images today.

      1. And by the way, since it came up in Seattle almost exactly a year ago, Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado isn’t mocking the Japanese and their culture, either. It’s mocking the Europeans who were going nuts over japonisme, dressing up in kimonos and getting all excited over the figures depicted on pottery and textiles.

        It’s right there in the first four lines of the opening chorus (the very outset of the entire piece):

        If you want to know who we are,
        We are gentlemen of Japan,
        On many a vase and jar,
        On many a screen and fan.

      2. Actually, no. Blackface wasn’t specifically mockery in the 19th century. We read it as such now but it’s not that clearcut when viewing it as a 19th century phenomenon. And it certainly is imperialist and colonial to dress up in an outdated fashion — see my comparison to headdresses at Coachella (or is that ok too?).

        1. Whether you want to use the word mockery or not, 19th century Americans sure weren’t putting on blackface because they thought black people and their stuff were cool.

          The whole point of japonisme was that the people who engaged in it thought the Japanese and their stuff were cool.

          White Americans (or, what the heck, even black or Asian Americans) putting on Native American headdresses for fun at Coachella is insensitive and rude because they’re doing it in a place (the United States) where the Native American population and culture were almost entirely wiped out by a conquering power that’s still there today. More to the point, playing dress-up with what’s left of Native American dress and culture is objectionable because Native Americans object to it.

          Neither Japan’s population nor its culture has ever been wiped out, and the people objecting to the MFA Boston’s kimono-selfie gambit are not Japanese.

          Seems to me that, if anything, it’s the non-Japanese presuming to object on behalf of the Japanese and their culture who are being paternalistic and culturally imperialist, attempting to impose their own values on the MFA and the Japanese community.

          1. Wrong on both counts. Look up the history of minstelry. Minstelry and blackface were seen as a kind of celebration of black culture, albeit it in a paternalistic way. Likewise, although there was a certain admiration for Japan in japonisme, it was also because it was an exotic other, and from what was seen as a less civilized society. Think “noble savage”. That’s what’s wrong with this event in Boston: it really is a recreation of Eurocentric attitudes towards other cultures.

          2. Must be judgmental and uptight, must regulate and forbid others from enjoying art and culture in their own way. This kind of cultural playfulness in a museum must not be allowed.

          3. Don’t be ridiculous. This has nothing to do with being judgmental or uptight, or banning playfulness, cultural or otherwise. This is about a poorly thought-out activity that many are rightfully questioning for its taste and appropriateness. For gods sakes does all common sense have to be thrown out the window for the sake of mass spectacle and turnstile clicking?

        2. There nothing imperialist and colonial about kimono dress up. We do it all the time in the modern day in the US at Japanese festivals and cultural events.

    4. I immediately thought of blackface as well upon reading this article. Racist or not, what bothers me is the cheapened “connection” made here by inviting viewers to play dress-up just as Camille Monet is playing dress-up in the painting. I would expect trying on a kimono would be a much more appropriate activity for an exhibition of kimonos.
      Also, I wonder what the reaction of Americans in Japan would be to a Japanese exhibition that invited visitors to try on a cowboy hat and chaps, for instance.

      1. “Also, I wonder what the reaction of Americans in Japan would be to a Japanese exhibition that invited visitors to try on a cowboy hat and chaps, for instance.”

        I expect that there are theme parks in Japan where visitors can do exactly that – and I’m confident that most Americans would consider it at worst goofy.

        (There are many problems afflicting America and its people; lack of confidence in the power of American culture is not one of them.)

        Granted, theme parks are not museums, and museums aren’t (or shouldn’t be) theme parks.

        So let’s suppose that a major museum in Japan staged an exhibition of Japanese art from the early days of the opening to the West (and, perhaps, from Nagasaki before then), showing the ways that Japanese artists unfamiliar with Westerners depicted them. And let’s suppose that the exhibition included the opportunity for Japanese visitors to try on jackets and waistcoats, hoop skirts, top hats, and whatever other 19th-century Western clothing was depicted in that art. Would Europeans and Americans object and feel offended? I sure wouldn’t – and I’m pretty confident that I’d be in the majority.

        Now, let’s suppose that said Japanese museums encouraged visitors to take selfies while dressed up in these foreign costumes. Does that make the whole thing seem any more objectionable? Maybe …

        I think that’s what leads to the “cheapened” connection Laurie Kind refers to above. It may just be that the selfie element was the real problem with the MFA Boston’s Monet kimono gambit. Call it snobbish or elitist or whatever, but to many folks selfies cheapen just about everything they touch.

      2. You said it perhaps better than I did. On your last point, someone else in this thread mentioned that and felt that Americans would be fine with it. Perhaps, but Native American headdresses as fashion accessory or the German obsession with Native American culture (including dressing up like “Indians” and sleeping in teepees) is probably more apt. What is billed as a celebration or tribute is actually an exoticism.

        1. If you simply describe it as exoticism, fine. In that case you and I disagree only in that I don’t see any grievous harm in exoticism – especially when the object of the exoticism is a culture (Japan’s) which has always been able to hold its own with every other in the world.

      3. ” I would expect trying on a kimono would be a much more appropriate activity for an exhibition of kimonos.”

        I believe the MFA has done that before. They told me it wasn’t the first time they’d done kimono try on but I don’t know the context of the previous events.

        I don’t think there’s any cheapening going on here. Camille was wearing a theatrical costume and the replica was made for the express purpose of the public trying it on regardless of race or national origin. I don’t see this akin to blackface at all. If it’s yellowface then it’s the Japanese who are being accused of it since they’re the ones who came up with the idea.

  2. I like the idea that Monet was poking fun at a fad, it in part explains a rather wacky yet dead-pan painting.

    1. I agree and I wish the writer could have found the source for that. I hadn’t known that about the painting, but it makes good sense when one looks at it, and it would be great if it were true and people knew that, and great if it had been known by the museum people (you would think they would know that, eh?)

      1. The MFA characterizes the painting as “a witty comment on the current Paris fad for all things Japanese.”

        You can read more about Monet’s fascination with Japan here:

        I conversed with a French American who said “Nowadays, when you visit Monet’s house in Giverny, what is striking is that there are what looks like a hundred original Ukiyo-e prints from Japan in every wall of the house swamping out any other art displayed on his walls.”

  3. I suspect the protests have much to do with being in Boston, a most annoyingly over-PC city. Rather than racist, it just seems like a hokey stunt for an art museum, the sort of thing you’d sooner see at an amusement park. Also I can’t help but think of the opposite, what if a Japanese museum had an exhibit where visitors could dress up like American cowboys and take pictures? Would any anybody cry foul about cultural insensitivity and racism? Doubt it. We’d just think the Japanese look kinda goofy dressed up as one of our cultural icons, much like the visitors at the MFA do in kimonos.

    1. the controversy itself brought WAY more visitors to the museum to see the spectacle than would have come with just the try the kimono on promotion (which, by the way, was done in Japan with no problems)

        1. It’s not problematic anywhere! The Japanese want the kimono to be worn. They encourage it. The exhibition was designed so that anybody could try them on.

          1. Obviously not problematic anywhere. That’s why there are days’ long lists of responses to this article, duh.

  4. Unfortunately this argument just doesn’t hold art-historical water. Japonisme is more than the collection and acquisition of Japanese objects d’art that Monet might well be mocking as a middle-class fad in the mid nineteenth century. Japonisme (as a subset of Orientalism) is the wholesale appropriation of Japanese and other East Asian artistic and spiritual philosophies that gives rise to Impressionism’s provisional aesthetic, in contrast to the Western Enlightenment ideals of Neoclassicism. Monet is a leading purveyor of Japonisme (and Orientalism) in that sense. It’s both tacky and insensitive for the museum to be inviting patrons to emulate the bourgeois appropriation of Japanese culture that Monet’s model displays, and the possibility that the artist meant to poke fun at his contemporaries doesn’t diminish the racial contentiousness at all since there is no evidence he did so from the perspective of someone who believed Japanese culture should be treated with greater respect. On the contrary, his mockery was more likely motivated by disdain for his peers who would reject their superior European lineage in search of something more romantic.

    History shows us that while military power was employed worldwide in the European project of imperialism, soft power in the form of fashion, art, and commerce was no less in action nor any less important. Orientalism in the Impressionist period coincides with the British instigation of the Opium Wars and widespread exploitation of Asian artisans to produce the goods lauded in the World’s Fairs of Europe and the United States during this period. There’s nothing innocent about a museum engaged in a rehash of this mode of cultural appropriation.

    1. I think you’re conflating various countries and their relationships to power. Art historically Japonisme does not have the same power dynamic as other “oriental” modes, particularly since they don’t emerge from a colonized nation.

      Seph also discusses the difference between wearing the kimono and propagating images of it, which he is critical of. I think that distinction is important.

      The Opium Wars were in China, and Japan had a limited role, though they benefited from a weakened China:

      Other bloggers, including this Japanese-American writer, have also found the protest misguided:

      1. Europe did not successfully colonize Japan but that does not imply that there were not colonial designs on Japan in the period when Monet was painting. The motivation to flood the European market with Japanese goods still holds with respect to winning public opinion in favor of economic imperialism even if there was not a successful military campaign to conquer the country. China was also never colonized by the West but not for lack of trying (hence my Opium Wars example). The implications in Europe of East Asian cultural appropriation are not as nuanced as you’re claiming.

        1. China was colonized (hence Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, which was colonized by the Japanese), even if it wasn’t totally. I understand the overarching point but the protesters appear to be conflating many issues and not dealing with the unique history to Japonisme and Japan.

          I personally agreed with the cancellation of the event, particularly since it was insensitive (inadvertently or not considering the local context), and had its own muddy thinking (not enough clear education/info).

          1. If this were an exhibition of Hokusai there would be far less to complain about. The fact that Japanese culture is being treated as an accessory to Impressionist painting is what’s problematic. It reinforces the idea that Japanese culture is appealing only in the absence of Japanese people, and that it is appropriate to explore in that absence. Remember that Japanese-Americans have been subject to very real racism, incarcerated on the basis of ethnicity, and an entire generation had their livelihoods stolen in this country. It’s not as simple as “Europe never colonized Japan.”

          2. It definitely isn’t that simple, we both agree on that. It’s curious though that this was a Japanese idea of how to encourage visitors to engage with the painting. That also factors into the complexity.

          3. Enlisting some Japanese cultural educators and linking the two shows through those programs seems like a no-brainer then. Is it that this actually happened and was not reported accurately by protesters, or that the emphasis from the museum was on cultural tourism rather than attribution? Hokusai and his contemporaries in the Edo are as modern in the context of Japanese tradition as the Impressionists are in Europe.

          4. This is the museum’s memo about the event before they canceled. Originally statement for museum employees?

          5. The protesters have not reported a lot of things accurately. I’ve been very cautious about how I’ve written about the MFA’s actions knowing that they may have left out important pieces of information (like the fact that the kimonos were a gift from Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, something I figured out as soon as I started looking into Kimono Wednesdays) or were twisting others (saying there was no education when in fact there was education, just not education they approved of). I’ve since spoken with a number of MFA staffers and gotten a lot cleared up.

            If you’ve never been to the MFA, it is vast. There would be no way of linking the Hokusai exhibit with La Japonaise. It wouldn’t make any sense. The Hokusai exhibit is housed several floors away in a gallery where they show rotating exhibitions. It’s beautifully done with everything in it being work by Hokusai or Hokusai-inspired work. La Japonaise would be out of place there, not to mention there’s no room.

            La Japonaise is housed in a gallery full of Impressionist art. It had been away for two years being conserved and then touring Japan. Now it’s back in its permanent home. The uchikake were part of the celebration of its homecoming.

            The MFA has been celebrating Japanese art all year in various parts of the museum:
            It isn’t necessary for them to bring in only Japanese educators. If an American is versed in the topic they might be able to shed more light on Japanese art than even a Japanese person could. They do have some Japanese curators on staff but curators aren’t the ones responsible for giving their Spotlight Talks.

          6. Europeans didn’t colonize Japan and China the way they did other parts of Asia and most of Africa, but they did what they felt they could get away with. The forcing of China to admit traders and opportunists and the horrendous use of opium to undermine Chinese society was totally evil. China, however, was simply too big to fully occupy.
            Both China and Japan had not industrialized. This made them vulnerable to the West. Japan being smaller and more culturally unified enabled them to industrialize quite rapidly once they realized how vital it was to their autonomy.
            The cultural impact of Asian cultures on Europe was quite vivid and strong in the late 19th century. Conversely the Japanese are quite mad for the Impressionists and Van Gogh, recognizing how the sensibility of the French painters resonated with how the Japanese see the world.

          7. “Remember that Japanese-Americans have been subject to very real racism,
            incarcerated on the basis of ethnicity, and an entire generation had
            their livelihoods stolen in this country. It’s not as simple as “Europe
            never colonized Japan.””

            Yes, we have, and none of that has anything to do with a kimono try on event in the context of a Monet in an Impressionist gallery. I’m personally thrilled that they are bringing Japanese art INTO an Impressionist gallery where there would ordinarily be none. The MFA is huge and since they divide the art by region the Japanese art wing is far from the Impressionist gallery. However, if anyone leaves the MFA without viewing any other Japanese art that’s entirely their own fault. There has been SO much Japanese art at the MFA this year although some of the earlier shows have closed. But Hokusai is still there for another week and a half.

            Also, the idea that Japanese art can only be shared with white people in the presence of Japanese people is rather tokenizing. Japanese people don’t need to be present to give white people permission to enjoy Japanese culture.

          8. My issue is largely with the assumption that American audiences = white people, or at least no people of Asian descent. The fact that the MFA follows the 19th century model of dividing their collection by geography furthers this omission. There absolutely are ways to directly address questions of artistic influence in a less tokenizing manner than what was done here. Western museums’ proprietary treatment of ideas like provisionality and flatness in Impressionism represents a failure to give credit where due, that trying on kimonos does nothing to address.

            The protesters in this case seem not to have had adequate education to express the issues accurately – which is precisely why I’m calling for a more informed perspective (and seeking to present one).

          9. One of my friends wanted to see the uchikake and Hokusai so I ended up back at the MFA last night. We still had some time after Hokusai so we wandered around a little trying to find one particular gallery we decided to check out. On the way, we were surprised to stumble across Japanese-inspired and Japanese art in 3 other galleries we passed through. I don’t understand what’s problematic about organizing by geography. That works fine for me. I haven’t found any of the MFA’s actions with respect to the event tokenizing, though I did criticize them for their response to the protesters.

            “The protesters in this case seem not to have had adequate education to express the issues accurately – which is precisely why I’m calling for a more informed perspective (and seeking to present one).”

            Have you read all the protesters’ stuff? They keep changing their focus but it’s not clear to me that their issues are the same as yours. Though I do think you’re correct that they don’t have adequate background to express whatever they’re trying to express since people are having such a hard time understanding them and they also have gotten some things wrong. Most of them have art backgrounds though and have been educated at elite/good schools.

          10. “My issue is largely with the assumption that American audiences = white people, or at least no people of Asian descent.”

            I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this. Who is making the assumption that American audiences = white people? I saw plenty of Asians during my three trips to the MFA last month. Japanese visitors are so frequent that Japanese is the only other language on a sign at the ticket booth.
            I think at the MFA at least they’re well aware that their audience includes Asians and people of Asian descent.

            Certainly it’s a problem that core museum visitors are 91% white – per the Center for the Future of Museums – see chart on page 5:
            although the related issue is the lack of diversity in museology. That’s something the whole field will have to address.

            “Western museums’ proprietary treatment of ideas like provisionality and flatness in Impressionism represents a failure to give credit where due, that trying on kimonos does nothing to address.”

            Why do they have to address that? I don’t think that’s what any of the museums that had those events were trying to do in having the try on. I responded to someone else on a different article who I thought was saying that the event was kitsch (he was actually referring to La Japonaise) about why I thought being able to try the uchikake on was a good thing.

            I can’t debate the art history with you at your level since I have no background in it as you do. The only thing I can offer is that you seem to be approaching the art history through a Western lens that differs from how the Japanese see it, something I’ve learned from talking to a lot of Japanese people in the past month about how japonisme and Monet in particular are viewed.

            Here’s a paper written by the Chief Curator of the Kyoto Costume Museum on “Japonism in Fashion”. I haven’t read the whole thing yet – it turned up in some search I did about La Japonaise. The section I found relevant is on page 8 about the backwards glance that came from Hishikawa Moronobu’s work.

            Also a piece from The Japan Times that talks briefly about orientalism and how the author doesn’t see that as especially applicable to Japan.

    2. Dear Anuradha,

      Thank you for joining the discussion. A couple of things: One, you seem quite conversant with the history of Japonisme, could you share your sources with me? Two, your understanding of it differs very much from mine, but you seem to take too many liberties when you imagine what Monet’s mockery was motivated by. This bit seems not to even be psychoanalysis; this seems like projection. How could you know what underlies his thinking? Three, you’ve cited Orientalism coinciding with British instigation of the Opium Wars, but coincidence is not causation. This seems faulty thinking to me. Lastly, you are, I think, too much presuming the Japanese to be victims of Japonisme. From what I understanding this was an established market in which they consciously participated and profited from.

      1. Read TJ Clark’s The Painting of Modern Life and Saloni Mathur’s India by Design to begin with. Clark makes a case for Monet as a European chauvinist (compared with, say, Manet or Gauguin). Mathur makes an excellent argument for understanding the Opium Wars through the lens of cultural imperialism a la Orientalism.

        You are mistaken if you think that non-Western complicity in globalized trade is in any way an argument against holding European powers accountable for strategic applications of economic imperialism. That’s like arguing that because Africans and Arabs sold slaves to Europeans and Americans, the West is not at fault for African enslavement in the New World. Overall I would say, look at your argument and substitute African-American tropes for Asian ones. If the museum were no longer allowing visitors to try on a wig of African hair, but only touch it, would that be ok? If the museum were arguing that appropriation of Ethiopian culture was ok in the West because slaves were mostly exported from West Africa, would that be ok?

        1. Dear Anuradha,

          I don’t agree that Japonisme amounts to a strategic application of economic imperialism by Europe. Plus, what we, I think, are most concerned with here is not the economics, but the cultural representations. You seem to want to interchangeably use the two (for me) distinct forms of intercultural interaction. I’m not arguing that Europeans should not be held accountable to cultural imperialism, that is to say colonization by way of vehicles such as cultural appropriation. I’m not arguing that the museum is innocent of trading in commercial and consumptive ways of dealing with non-western cultures. What I’m arguing is that the protesters’ anger prevented them from clarity, that the particularly American lens through which this event is viewed is not the only valid one to use, and that the cries of racism foreclosed a moment of possible deeper understanding.

          Also, in the future I ask that you NOT use arguments regarding African slavery with me or African-American culture, as if you are assuming that this argument will be more meaningful or have more traction with me. Don’t presume that because I’m black (though I’m not American) you get to use arguments like this, as if to remind me that my ancestors were just as beleaguered as other non-Western people you purport to be victimized by Japonisme. Do not presume. You and I are not familiar or friends, and this argument for me gets dangerously close to telling me to watch my place. Let’s stay with talking about ideas. More, hair is not clothing.

          Thanks for your input.

          1. My point is that Asian cultures are held to a very different standard of cultural appropriation in the prevailing discourse that is dominated by black/white rhetoric. It’s not about your personal ethnicity but about applying a rhetoric of race that more Americans understand.

            The treatment of Asians in this country, including Japanese, has been quite racist and is very much a factor in these protests. Let me restate my comparison: would it be ok for the museum to allow audiences to touch or wear a headdress associated with the Iroquois because those tribes fought with the U.S. against the British in the Indian Wars, in the absence of Native educators, in the context of an exhibition of a white painter of Indians like George Catlin? Your argument neglects the realities of discrimination faced by Asians including Japanese in the U.S. and comes dangerously close to promoting a “model minority” rhetoric.

          2. But considering that the Japanese themselves welcome such an activity, and in fact encourage it, what gives a group of non-Japanese protesters the right to declare it racist? You really haven’t addressed that point, which is surely the central issue. Unless the argument is that the Japanese don’t know what’s good for themselves and/or are too timid/incompetent to stand up for themselves. Which would, of course, be an extremely condescending (and ironic) position to adopt.

          3. I’m speaking specifically to the experiences of Japanese-Americans and other Asian-Americans in the US in the context of American museums’ collecting and hiring practices and the demographics of American museums’ audiences (demonstrably overwhelmingly white and affluent). How Japanese people felt about the presentation of Japanese culture at Japanese venues for an exhibition could justifiably be quite different, and would arguably not be very relevant to the present conversation at all.

          4. Huh? The present conversation has nothing to do with “the collecting and hiring practices and the demographics of American museums’ audiences.” It’s about a specific exhibition at a specific museum seeking to involve its patrons in a specific way. It’s about a small group of vocal protesters essentially deciding how a particular Asian culture should be presented by the museum, in a way contrary to how members of that particular culture wish it to be presented. The way the Japanese feel about it is totally relevant, as it’s their culture! Much more relevant, in fact, than than the issue of the wearing of Native American headdresses.

          5. That’s simply not true. The context for this presentation is an American context and you just can’t borrow a program wholesale from a Japanese institution and have it be read and understood the same way. The protesters are objecting to the discrepancy between American institutional presentations of Japanese culture and the treatment of Asians in America, including Japanese-Americans. This is about American audiences and the context that an American institution creates.

          6. No, the protesters and their apologists are arrogantly presuming to speak for Japanese and essentially telling them how their own culture should be portrayed and enjoyed by others. This exhibition came from Japan, it was designed to be enjoyed in this way, and both Japanese and non-Japanese have been encouraged to do so both in Japan and the United States. The protesters have been raising all sorts of irrelevant issues to justify their attempts to hijack this exhibition. They may well have a point about the wider issue of the historical discrimination against Asian-Amricans. But the exhibition itself is not the problem. Rather, it’s the protesters’ inability to articulate their views in a proper forum, thereby ruining the enjoyment of an interesting and widely admired work of art by others. And, might I say, managing to make themselves look silly in the process.

          7. “The protesters’ inability to articulate their views in a proper forum” such as this one, in which not a single AAPI protester was interviewed or even directly quoted as research before the author drew his conclusions? What I see as arrogant is the presumption that Asian Americans have no role in this conversation, because that prioritizes monolithic views of both Japanese and Americans that are shaped by only the most nationalistic interpretations of both groups. Furthermore it implies that cultural exchange in 2015 can exist between non-Western cultures and white Americans without requiring any input from Americans of color who feel a stake in those non-Western cultures on the basis of their heritage. It just doesn’t fly.

          8. Good grief. This is about a specific painting and how it is permitted to be exhibited. It’s not complicated. It’s about the portrayal of Japanese culture, and whether it’s OK for non-Japanese to try on a kimono and take a photo of themselves. That’s it. The Japanese say it’s OK; in fact they welcome it. And no, other people of color don’t get to tell the Japanese how their own culture should be displayed. That’s the height of arrogance. Now, I’ve said all I can say on the matter. I don’t really care if you can’t grasp the essential point. But at least I tried.

          9. Anuradhaji, are you really so comfortable “speaking to the experiences of Japanese-Americans and other Asian-Americans in the US” – in particular, Americans of East and Southeast Asian descent?

            I’m not sure I would be, if I were Indian-American. For whatever that’s worth …

          10. I live in California and work closely with Asian-American art activists from all backgrounds including Japanese, to the point where I have enough direct understanding from Japanese-Americans invested in these arguments to feel comfortable translating. I am not claiming these issues as my own. But I’m not an Indian, I’m an American, and my experience of these issues is not akin to what an Indian would experience. That’s pretty much exactly the point I am trying to make as to why it doesn’t necessarily matter how Japanese people view these issues in the context of a presentation in the U.S.

          11. “would it be ok for the museum to allow audiences to touch or wear a headdress associated with the Iroquois”

            This is not a sound comparison. Headdresses have special meaning. The uchikake that Camille Monet wore was a costume from what was believed to be a kabuki performance at the Exposition universelle de 1867. So the piece of clothing that the MFA invited the public to try on was a replica of a theatrical costume that Japanese people in Japan wanted people in American to try on regardless of their race or national origin.

          12. Still out of context though. There’s not coming over to try the “replica of the kabuki performance [costume] at the Exposition universelle de 1867” They are coming over to try on a kimonah!

    3. “Japonisme (as a subset of Orientalism) is the wholesale appropriation of Japanese and other East Asian artistic and spiritual philosophies that gives rise to Impressionism’s provisional aesthetic, in contrast to the Western Enlightenment ideals of Neoclassicism.”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing …
      (drawled in the voice of a Paul Rudnick character)

      “It’s both tacky and insensitive for the museum to be inviting patrons to emulate the bourgeois appropriation of Japanese culture that Monet’s model displays …”


      If Monet and his wife were engaging in “bourgeois appropriation” of Asian artistic and spiritual philosophies, then surely Asian artists were engaged in bourgeois appropriation of European and American artistic and spiritual philosophies when they began using perspective and (later) creating abstract art, no?

      Were Claude Debussy and Benjamin Britten engaging in bourgeois appropriation when they incorporated elements of gamelan music from the Indonesian archipelago into their works? Has Steve Reich been engaging in bourgeois appropriation when he uses the South Indian approach to rhythm and the Balinese technique of interlocking melodic parts in his music?

      If so, then surely the likes of Toshio Hosokawa, Guo Wenjing, and Unsuk Chin (as well as the late Toru Takemitsu) have been guilty of bourgeois appropriation in using Western instruments and symphony orchestras in their music.

      And that’s leaving aside the enormous number of orchestras, choristers and solo and chamber musicians performing Western classical music in China, Japan, and South Korea. Isn’t that cultural appropriation as well?

      For that matter, Anuradhaji, seems to me by this reasoning that your own forbears were engaging in “cultural appropriation” when they incorprated the violin and (later the harmonium) into Indian art music – to say nothing of Kadri Gopalnath and Rudresh Mahanthappa appropriating our saxophone.

      If it’s okay for traffic in artistic and cultural ideas to flow in one direction, it’s okay for them to flow in the other.

      1. Actually no, these are not equivalents. Please do a basic Google search for “cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation.” There are a variety of structural factors tied to the operations of imperialism that complicate the 1:1 equivalences you are stating as fact. It is absolutely ok, in fact it is inevitable, for cultural influences to flow in all directions across the globe. What makes Japonisme appropriation, and what makes the MFA’s exercise inappropriate, is the history of racial exclusion against Japanese and other Asians in the West that runs concurrent with the absorption of cultural influence. In short, a Japanese-American in a kimono is treated as a person of divided loyalties (only slightly less so when in a business suit) while Monet is a revolutionary artist whose genius is thought to owe little to nothing to his absorption of Japanese visual art concepts.

        This is basic stuff that’s been established for decades. The lazy thinking on this whole comment thread is exhausting to address.

        1. No it isn’t “basic” stuff that has been “established” for decades. It has been talked about for decades. It’s far from universally accepted, especially when people try to apply the principles in question where they’re not applicable.

          And in this case, I (and many others, it seems) simply don’t accept the premise that “structural factors tied to the operations of imperialism” are applicable to japonisme.

          Nothing whatsoever about the “operations of imperialism” is applicable to Japan in any way except insofar as Japan itself was an imperialist power. (One of the more aggressive and brutal, and racist, imperialist powers of the past two centuries.)

          I also don’t accept the premise that “a Japanese-American in a kimono is treated as a person of divided loyalties (only slightly less so when in a business suit).” I don’t accept it as a generalized statement in the present tense; in the past tense, I think the divided loyalty question was a serious issue only during one anomalous period in U.S. history when the country was at war with (and genuinely scared of) Japan.

          To get back to the matter at hand in this article, I simply haven’t read or seen any convincing argument that either Japanese culture or Japanese-Americans are harmed or insulted in any way by japonisme in general or this exhibition in particular.

          Japanese culture, and Japanese-Americans, simply aren’t that fragile.

          And from everything I’ve seen, it seems the vast majority of Japanese and Japanese-Americans (to the extent that they think the issue is worth bothering with) agree.

          1. It’s telling that you would make the claim that Japanese and Japanese-Americans see eye to eye on this issue given that no Japanese-Americans were consulted by the author of this piece. You began by asking me if I have a right to be comfortable speaking to the opinions of Japanese-Americans but here you are doing just that. The absence of Japanese-Americans from this discussion is precisely the problem.

            You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Scott Tsuchitani:

            Anyway you can think whatever you want – but your understanding of the history is factually inaccurate. Anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S. is far from an anomaly, and a Japanese-American still has to assimilate to Western cultural values and tropes to be granted economic or political currency (hired by a museum, for example). As for whether it is bourgeois for the Western avant-garde to consistently appropriate from Asia, the scholarship on this is quite well-established. The establishment of the bourgeoisie as a political power block has been contingent on their support through both advocacy and commerce for imperialist actions that ensure enough prosperity to go around (of which conquest is only one). One need only to look at the current economic crisis in Europe to see how directly the end of imperialism has been tied to the loss of status of the middle class in the West. One need only to look at contemporary China to see how the development of a middle class is tied to neocolonial economics. Not to even mention that after we bombed Japan in the most brutal and lethal act of war in human history (despite the fact that Germany killed far more Americans), that country was forced to be a military vassal state of the U.S. for the next 50 years.

            So if you’re not convinced by what you’ve read, I respectfully submit that it is because you haven’t yet read enough on the subject.

          2. “It’s telling that you would make the claim that Japanese and
            Japanese-Americans see eye to eye on this issue given that no
            Japanese-Americans were consulted by the author of this piece. You began
            by asking me if I have a right to be comfortable speaking to the
            opinions of Japanese-Americans but here you are doing just that. The
            absence of Japanese-Americans from this discussion is precisely the

            For someone who has a problem with no Japanese Americans being in this discussion you seem comfortable speaking for all of us and representing our views just because you know a few Japanese Americans. You can only share the views of your friends. Many Japanese and Japanese Americans are in agreement that nothing the MFA has done was racist, yellowface, or culturally appropriative as the protesters charged. I do think the event could have been better organized and more sensitively marketed but I (and many other Japanese Americans) aren’t seeing the MFA as the racist white supremacists the protesters seem to believe they are.

            As for japonisme, I’ve been told that the Japanese celebrate their influence on Western artists and that our Western read on what happened when Commodore Perry forced Japan to open to trade isn’t viewed quite so negatively in Japan. Before defending Japan for something they might not wish to have defended you might want to ask some Japanese people how they view these historical events and artistic influences.

  5. Well i don’t see how it’s a problem wearing a kimono. When Japanese in japan actually love to see non-Japanese wearing kimono. They actually would encourage it.It’s not taking their culture away. It’s embracing it and Japanese fashion. Check out Rachel and Jun youtube. They are a interracial couple. She’s white and her husband is japan they both live in japan. So they know and don’t see japanese people in japan offended by this.

  6. Why would it be appropriate to encourage an audience that is predominantly of European extraction to mimic a European woman indulging in a type of exoticism – fad or not, satirically or not?

    White people, running a historically white institution, showing a painting bought and sold by white people, painted by a white person, of a white person, mimicking a person of another ethnicity – and then white museum workers invited what they knew would be mostly white people to mimic that white person engaging in a fetishization of another culture? I’m just confused – why isn’t that wrongheaded? What is worthwhile here?

    The protestors seem to have had their hearts in the right place, however imprecise their rhetoric, and took time out of their days to be present in the gallery to raise awareness of this educational misstep. This article seems dismissive of them and their endeavor. I’m not sure why – was anyone claiming that there is no situation possible in which a white person could don a kimono to learn about its materiality? It seems reasonable to say that the protestors’ issue is the context, not that the kimono is simply a “charged cultural object” that is forever unable to be interacted with due to overbearing political correctness.

    I also don’t understand the contention that Japan “willfully provided their art for Western consumption and consciously contributed to its circulation in markets fueled by exoticized fascination with the East.” Only twenty two years previous to Monet’s painting, Perry took ten ships to forcibly open Japan to American trade. This opening of Japan – accomplished through a threat of potential excessive force – is the reason Japonisme was able to flourish. Japan did make the most of this afterward, but the opening was not exactly a self-initiated internal policy decision. The cultural processes that made this painting possible are inextricably linked to that moment of western economic imperialism.

    Good read btw!

    1. “why isn’t that wrongheaded?”

      because its fun and harmless. there’s nothing wrong with anyone of any race wearing a kimono. at all

      “took time out of their days to be present in the gallery to raise awareness of this educational misstep”

      that doesn’t mean they’re right. not all protests are worthwhile. Some, like this one, are quite ridiculous

    2. Hi James,

      Thanks for your comment. I do believe I pointed out that the event was mistaken is certain ways, though not in the ways you highlight. I don’t object merely to the protesters’ rhetoric; I object to their thinking, their conflation of the politics of Asian-American representation within a particularly American idiom, with representations of Japonisme. I don’t believe I’m being dismissive. I’ve taken the time to analyze and seriously consider what their protests mean, and I find the underlying assumptions problematic. Again, high dudgeon hasn’t led to clarity in this instance.

      You seem to know more about the history of the opening of the Japanese markets than I do, so I must say I cannot argue this point. However, my deeper and more substantial contention is that dismissing the show as racist has foreclosed the opportunity to have a fuller discussion. I am arguing that we need less gate keeping and more engagement.

  7. Good column, Seph, but it wasn’t necessary to throw in anything conciliatory about the protesters. These protesters were non-Japanese hatemongering freaks who interfered with a thoughtful and generous offer by the Japanese that gave gaikokujin a chance to experience and share in their beautiful culture. They think they know what is offensive to the Japanese better than the Japanese themselves do – which is the real insult here.

    And you missed the bigger question; which is that of who has a right to decide for
    others what they can see or do. You focused on whether or not the protesters ‘had a point’ in whether or not it was offensive. It wasn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is: they don’t get to decide – offensive or not- what we get to see or experience at an art museum, or anywhere else.

    1. Dear Thomas,

      Thanks for saying so, but I wasn’t being conciliatory; I was attempting to take the protests seriously and come to an understanding of how they were thinking about the event. There is a significant history of racism and colonialism that the protesters seem to be responding to, so I don’t think they are hatemongering freaks. I think they are doing what they thought necessary to shut down a situation of cultural appropriation that, in their regard continued a tradition of exploitation.

      I actually don’t think of the question as one of rights, whether to see an exhibit or prevent others from seeing it. The protesters are not the ones who closed the event, the museum did. The museum did not have to respond in fear, but could have heard the protesters out, invited them to participate in a round table discussion about the event, or it could have ceased allowing photos to be taken, while still permitting the Kimono to be worn. Again, I do think that the protesters’ indignation prevented them from seeing the long-term effects of closing down discussion, but I believe that some suggested having an open discussion with the museum and its audience. I suppose I am advocating for more generosity on the part of the institution and the protesters.

      1. OK Seph. I disagree on many points (and agree on others), but thanks for the reply. One last thought; even though I have a Dutch last name, I think this ‘cultural appropriation’ is beautiful.

      2. Hi Seph, great article. If the museum was going to provide context for Kimono Wednesdays, they should’ve pointed out from the outset that the uchikake was produced under the sponsorship of Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, for a “Looking East” exhibition in Japan and America incorporating the painting, and that *exhibition visitors in Japan had also been given the opportunity to be photographed in the uchikake in front of the painting*.
        But I dunno. Even with all that explanation, given the dogmatic stance of the anti-cultural appropriation crowd (as evidenced in this thread) I think it would’ve been a case of “a fool persuaded against his will/is of the same opinion still”

        1. Thanks for this Shaun,
          There is a lot of anger to work through around this issue, and I wonder, how persuasive anyone can be once another is seriously committed to an ideal or political program. We humans tend to imprint heavy when we buy in.

  8. From my understanding/education, orientalism and japonisme are not mutually exclusive terms, and are not only different in subject matter but an implied sense of morality. There is a huge difference in Gerome’s paintings of erotic harem girls and Whistler’s portraits including Japanese textiles, vertical orientation and a raised horizon line. The inclusion of such Japanese formal stylistic choices in western art at the turn of the century further distinguishes it from the voyeuristic, moralizing tone present in the orientalist paintings of the Muslim world. I haven’t seen these distinctions made in the comments, or mention of the adaptation of Japanese composition into western art, without which our current visual landscape would look much, much different.

  9. None of the Japanese protests this. the relations of Japanese art and the Impressionism are very famous. Amber Ying, she is not Japanese. It is hatred to Japan by Chinese.

  10. This is a continuation of the kind of nonsense that ensued after Katy Perry wore a geisha costume during her performance at some awards show in 2013. To my knowledge, barely anybody in Japan (the people you’d assume care most) raised an eyebrow or said a negative word about Perry’s choice of costume. All of the protests came from Asian-Americans. If Perry had worn a Korean hanbok, would they have felt the same way?

    It’s beyond weird that some Asian-Americans who are NOT of Japanese background harbor such a protective and proprietary attitude towards the wearing of kimono by museum visitors. These Asian-Americans in the Boston area are probably some of the very same people who hate revisionist Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and protested his visit to Harvard earlier this year.

    1. Yo, I objected to the Katy Perry geisha mishap and I am of Japanese descent. I think that offended me more than this: because she’s more known, has access (had visited Japan multiple times on tours), and yet decided “borrow a culture” for the evening because she herself had run out of ideas. (And did it badly by the way.) To make Japanese culture as interchangeable as one of her candy costumes ESPECIALLY by a star from California, which had a loooong history of racism against Japanese Americans until the redress from the “internment” camps (which we now would like the rest of the public to call them for what they were, concentration or incarceration camps).
      I think alot has already been said about Japonisme here (I find it hard to believe by the way that Monet would devote a whole painting to parodying something. Was he ever a social critic?) but I would like to note that just because there are a few people of Japanese descent counter-supporting, doesn’t mean they represent all of us. Japanese people are a pretty proud people, so if there was anything offensive, they’d be the last to protest it. I can tell you if any were directly from Japan (educated there mostly), the racial awareness is on a different plane than for educated Asian Americans as Japan has never ever made it a goal to be any kind of melting pot. In fact, GIJ, if you read up a little bit, PM Shinzo Abe is ALLLLL about keeping it one race, with the men on top;)

      1. “I would like to note that just because there are a few people of Japanese descent counter-supporting, doesn’t mean they represent all of us. Japanese people are a pretty proud people, so if there was anything offensive, they’d be the last to protest it.”

        Where are you getting these assumptions from? There are more than a few Japanese and Japanese Americans opposed to the protest. I’ve counted no more than 5 or 6 self-identified Japanese/Japanese Americans who have spoken up in support of the protests on their Facebook pages.

        I believe all the counterprotesters who showed up were Japanese from Japan and educated mostly in Japan, though they’ve all been long-time US residents. Three of them are friends of mine. They were so frustrated with the protesters that they felt they had to go out and show their support for Kimono Wednesdays and let white folks know there’s nothing racist about wearing a kimono, certainly not one that’s a replica of a (probably) kabuki costume. I suspect more Japanese would have shown up if they’d had more time to organize. Last week when I went I meet a Japanese woman who had flown in from LA where she’s currently working (splits her time between LA and Tokyo), because she was so upset by the protest. She wasn’t there to counterprotest with a sign or anything, but she came in a kimono. One of her occupations is being a cultural ambassador for Japan, sometimes as a representative of the government and sometimes just as someone who’s passionate about sharing Japanese culture. Her mom teaches tea ceremony in Japan and she wears kimono as much as she can and teaches others how to wear them.

        Multiple Japanese and Japanese Americans have spoken out on the protesters Facebook pages and other places to say they don’t agree. The protesters have totally dismissed all of them (as well as some other Asian Americans who say they don’t agree). As far as I’ve been able to tell the protesters represent a minority view that isn’t widely supported. After weeks of protesting they have 112 likes on their Facebook page.

        As for Katy Perry’s AMA performance, I too found it offensive. I was so angry I had to pause the video several times. After I wrote a lengthy screed about it as part of my post on Kimono Wednesdays I talked to some of my Japanese friends who live here and found out that they didn’t find it offensive at all. Their views and a talk I went to given by a white friend who grew up among indigenous Peruvians (her parents were anthropologists) made me rethink why Asian Americans and other people of color in the US are so possessive of “our” cultures. It had never even occurred to me that Japanese people might think Perry’s performance was totally okay. A Japanese kimono stylist in California helped Perry’s stylist with the costumes. I still think Perry’s performance was problematic for reasons that Japanese people living in Japan wouldn’t understand but I found it interesting that my friends living here didn’t see any problem with it. I think a lot of Asian Americans have become conditioned to assuming the worst motivations by white people when frequently those motivations are imaginary. The MFA has a great relationship with Japan and has been an excellent steward of Japanese art. I have often wondered why Boston’s museums have such significant Japanese art collections. It seems it was all due to the work of Bostonians in the late 1800s. The woman I met last week said some of the best preserved Japanese art she’s seen has been those pieces that left Japan and have been lovingly cared for elsewhere.

        The protesters made the assumption that Kimono Wednesdays were an event
        cooked up by white people to demean Japanese culture and Asian Americans
        when nothing could be further from the truth.

        1. It’s interesting that you are willing to conflate all AA activism. Is this an expression, perhaps, of your revulsion from identifying with them because you are special… above it all… Japanese, right? lol
          It’s interesting also that you are able to completely forget your own experience of revulsion of KP’s performance when you look at some larger groups for validation. Japanese people in Japan who like I stated before have a different history of race AND HAVE HUNDREDS of their OWN CELEBRITIES . In that context, of course Katy Perry is unoffensive. But then curiously you turn to your “friends living here” who have no problem with it because how the hell do they know how to tie an obi, not to mention what one is in the first place?
          The point of AA activism is to validate our very OWN experience, not some groups’. Where do you think you got the sense to value larger group experiences rather than your own? Sounds like you need to make some more “friends living here” or at least do some more reading;)

          1. I don’t understand what you said about conflating all AA activism. I talked specifically about the MFA protest, no one else.

            I don’t forget my revulsion of Perry’s performance nor was I looking for “validation”. I started out by asking one of my friends who teaches about kimono because I realized that Japanese people might take a different view of it and was curious what she’d say. Then I asked other people after she told me that although she didn’t care for the performance she found nothing offensive about. Because of the conversations I’ve had with my Japanese friends and hearing about my other friend’s experience with the generosity of the Peruvian indigenous people she grew up with I’ve been rethinking my views on cultural appropriation. I’ve also talked to other Asian Americans who don’t accept what I think is a fairly widely accepted view that any time a non-Asian person uses “our” culture it’s cultural appropriation. One is an artist who works in a variety of art forms including some from Japanese culture which isn’t his culture. I suppose I don’t know what I thought he would say but I found his thoughts surprising.

            “But then curiously you turn to your “friends living here” who have no
            problem with it because how the hell do they know how to tie an obi, not to mention what one is in the first place?”

            The friends I talked to were long-time residents of the US but they’re not Japanese Americans who don’t know what an obi is. Some know a lot about kimono (and own them and wear them) and some know less.

            “The point of AA activism is to validate our very OWN experience, not some groups’.”

            These particular activists have said they wanted more education and dialogue. Dialogue doesn’t mean everyone else shuts the hell up while you shared your lived experience and why your view is the only right one that everyone should accept. Which is what they did. They alienated a lot of Asian Americans and from the stuff that’s been getting back to me from the community, fractured Boston’s Asian American community. They also provided very little in the way of actual education beyond saying that these were their thoughts and feelings. Most of the feedback I’ve gotten from people is that people learned more reading my blog than any of their materials.

            I’m not saying they shouldn’t protest but if you’re going to protest and state that your goals are dialogue and education then you you should actually try to live up to that.

          2. I feel like you are using the protesters “bad manners” as a way to support your view that Japanese-people-don’t-see-any-problem-with- the-kimonos-so-there-shouldn’t-be-a-problem. And I’m not sure why are you quoting a non-Japanese (and a man at that?) whose very work DEPENDS on cultural appropriation to give more credence to the idea that it’s not cultural appropriation? And I wonder what you really mean when you say all these kinds of opinions are “interesting.” So far you’ve only demonstrated being more open to them rather than the idea to which you originally took offense, that Japanese people are proud and would be the last to protest a problem. This all based on the fact that you’ve “counted no more than 5 or 6 self-identified Japanese/Japanese Americans who have spoken up in support of the protests on their Facebook pages.” You miss my point entirely. Read what I wrote again more carefully. Then again please. (You too Eido.)

            As for AA unity in Boston, I question if your really care about that. Tell me what themes AA unity was based in Boston around before this because although I am very familiar with the area, and AA issues, I don’t live in Boston. All I can say is that from my experience, anybody who cries lack of unity as a detraction during a debate is really on the side of not questioning things at all.

          3. I read your posts several times and they still don’t make sense to me. Communication is not a one-way street. You may think you’ve made your point completely clear but if others don’t understand it, then that’s on you. This is something I’ve been saying about the protesters since the beginning. It’s not just about bad manners, but they’ve made a lot of mis-steps which started with not thoroughly researching their target from the beginning.

            I don’t know what quote you are talking about. I’ve written a lot of articles and quoted from a variety of sources. I don’t see what the gender of the author has to do with anything.

            As I’ve said on my blog I think the Japanese view is important because for me (and others) a big part of what defines “cultural appropriation” is a lack of permission which is clearly not the case here. I don’t know why you think that I need Japanese opinions to support my own. I think my own opinions are enough and plenty of other JAs and some AAs I’ve talked to have said the same thing. Why should our opinions carry less weight than yours and the protesters who have claimed to speak for us? I think one of the reasons so many people felt compelled to speak up is because the protesters never made it clear that they were speaking only for themselves. They have tried to make it seem like they are speaking for the Japanese, Japanese Americans and ALL Asian Americans. We’re saying no, you don’t get to speak for us.

            If you don’t live here then please don’t claim to understand what’s going on in our local Asian American community. I got that from multiple sources including one of the protesters who told me last night that they were aware that their protest had fractured the community and that there was a need for healing, the JACL, a local arts/community leader who has spoken with a lot of people about it, and one of our local JA leaders was quoted in the Globe as saying that opinions were divided. I’ve also heard it anecdotally from a lot of people (that that’s what’s going on in their group of friends). This isn’t me crying lack of unity, this information is coming from all over the community.

          4. You’re kind of a ranter so let me go step by step. I’m *communicating* with you, responding to you. It’s you that’s being the one-way street. You are claiming to “represent” the Japanese point of view saying the “more than 5 or 6 self-identified Japanese/Japanese Americans who have spoken up in support of the protests on their Facebook pages” count less as they are in the minority. That’s your view from looking at East Coast social media, and nothing is less subjective than that. You have not said *anything* about what I said about celebrities in Japan and how that could affect people’s view of Katy Perry there. Katy Perry doesn’t really matter in Japan. You get that right? You understand that KP is big here, right? Do you also understand that there is probably 0.1% representation of AA’s in American culture yes? Let’s start from there.

          5. You’re making a lot of assumptions about where I’m getting my data from that are way off base. I have never claimed to represent the Japanese viewpoint. I have written about what Japanese people have said directly to me and what commentary I’ve read/watched around the Internet from Japanese people. I am repeating and sharing their viewpoint not representing it. I do think from talking to some JAs that my viewpoint IS representative of some JAs but I can’t speculate what percent. And no, this isn’t my view from “East Coast social media”. The stuff I’ve seen on social media has been world wide and I have talked to JAs across the country from coast to coast + family in Hawaii.

            I didn’t say anything about what you said about celebrities in Japan because I don’t find it relevant to the discussion. Japanese people in Japan are huge fans of foreign pop stars as well. I think it was @havill:disqus who pointed out that Perry is so popular in Japan she has a Japanese language Twitter account. It appears that you think that Japanese people think one way because they live in a society where they’re the majority and all JAs and AAs think another. While I did get the sense that Perry’s performance was more widely criticized in the US there actually isn’t consensus and some AAs thought it was fine.

            I’m fully aware of our low AA representation in American culture though I’ve never seen the 0.1% figure. Please cite a source. I think it’s an important issue that has nothing to do with a kimono donated by Japan to a US museum for ALL people to try on, not just the white people. I am not the only AA/JA to say this.

          6. Well, you’re not JA, clearly so it can’t be “representative.” lol “I am repeating and sharing their viewpoint not representing it.” Give me a break. What is “I believe all the counterprotesters who showed up were Japanese from Japan and educated mostly in Japan, though they’ve all been long-time US residents. Three of them are friends of mine. They were so frustrated with the protesters…” then trashing protesters argument for being rude, or whatever. Typical Japanese.

          7. I’m not Japanese American? My mom’s side of the family has lived in the US for 100 years. I was born in Japan and raised in the US. I’m a US citizen. Having some Japanese friends and expecting people to behave to a certain standard of civility doesn’t make me “typical Japanese”. You don’t get to define my identity. I’m certainly not the only person who thinks that some of the protesters’ behavior has been appalling (that includes other Japanese Americans and Asian Americans). If you think that all JAs and AAs support the protest and the protesters then you’re in an echo chamber.

            I’ve seen the protests in person for the last 3 weeks, read all their materials, followed almost all the conversations they’ve had on Facebook and a few on Twitter, talked with MFA staffers, talked to a ton of people who don’t support them, spoken to 2 protesters (who thanked me for my writing even though I don’t agree with them), and have heard from people who support the protest or at least their ideas if not their tactics. You’re not in Boston and you don’t appear to actually know anyone involved in this situation so please don’t tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

          8. It’s typically Japanese to say you’re not part of the group so you have nothing to contribute. I really don’t care what your ethnic background is, but to not be able to read what the protesters are saying while harping on their “style” is pretty Japanese;)

          9. You’re not making any sense. I have read every official statement, manifesto and FAQ that the protesters have put out (as well as a good chunk of their Facebook and Twitter output) before “harping on their “style”” as you put it.

          10. You should just ignore NY, it’s just trolling you. It is either some far-left self-hating white feminazi or some far-left self-hating yellow feminazi anyway. And if it’s yellow, it’s either Chinese or Korean or some self-hating Japanese descendant, like Burukamin or something.

          11. You know you’re being really offensive right? Feminazi is a terrible term and referring to Asians as yellow is offensive. I would think you’d understand that.

          12. Sorry about that. As a male, admittedly, my supposedly inborn priviledge (as feminists like to call it) may make me insensitive to the fact that feminazi may be offensive to females, and as for referring to Asians as yellow, well, I’m Asian too you know, Filipino specifically, and as a nation, we have never minded being referred to as yellow (indeed, fans of the Aquino dynasty even take pride in being identified with such a color) or brown, but I can see how other Asian nations may be offended by it, so sorry again…

          13. It’s the whole “yellow peril” thing that makes it so problematic.
            I think you may be the first Asian I’ve come across to not mind it, although I did have a friend in high school who liked to use the Nuprin ad copy as a joke about himself: “Little, yellow, different, better” was I think how it went. He was pretty short.

            “Feminazi” is also offensive to some Jews. I mentioned to a Jewish friend that someone had called the protesters that on Facebook and she was incensed and said until they start rounding people up and murdering them by the thousands she doesn’t want to hear about it.

          14. If you bothered to look at the very top of the discussion, it’s Keiko K (who claims to be Japanese on her blog by the way) who trolled me here. Get your facts straight, idiot.

          15. Also, the fact of the matter is, the protesters brought the issue up. You and your friends didn’t. The issue wouldn’t even be on the radar had it been left to you and your friends;)

          16. I’m getting that you’re not the brightest bulb in the tree. But best of luck, it’s America, where you can think whatever the hell you want. There’s space for that. So long!

          17. Do you have Japanese ancestry? Your name Keiko, as part of Keiko K., seems like it could be an actual Japanese name, but not a Western name (at least not one recognizable in an American context; sorry if this name represents a name from a culture other than Japanese). If you are not of Japanese descent, using such a name in this Western, English-language context is very misleading.

          18. You’re correct, Keiko is a Japanese name.

            I was born in Japan to a Japanese dad and a nisei (2nd gen) Japanese (technically Okinawan) American mom. (Since Japan conquered Okinawa, most don’t view Okinawans as their own people any more but I don’t look fully Japanese because I’m not.) I learned to speak English and Japanese at the same time though I’m only fluent in English these days having been raised in the US and losing much of my Japanese language facility through my teens after my parents allowed me to quit Japanese Saturday school. :/ I still understand some Japanese and can speak a little but not enough to carry on a complex conversation.

          19. “Typical Japanese”

            Aha, I knew it! No wonder you support the Protesters. Typical Chinese/Korean. No wonder why the rest of Asia despises you :p

          20. We all are, self-hating, that is, which is why we either migrate the first chance we get or we compensate for our excessive inferiority complex with an excessive superiority complex i.e. “Pinoy Pride” e.g. Pactards ;P

    2. ” barely anybody in Japan (the people you’d assume care most) raised an
      eyebrow or said a negative word about Perry’s choice of costume.”

      And you would know this how? Do you read enough Japanese to actually know? After all, it would most likely be discussed in the language they use every day.

      1. But even if they didn’t see my second paragraph. Different histories of race, proud culture.

  11. Unless a person is a politician…why does one want to be politically correct? Political correctness was invented by the lying rhetoricians (aka politicians) so they wont say or do anything that will hurt their chances at gaining power. Being PC does not base itself in truth, it is based in popularity polls.

    I applaud the museum for such a creative effort. Too bad the museum caved. The art museums better develop a plan to deal with these knuckleheads. There was nothing wrong with the show. I would have liked to try a kimono on. What should have been done is to have a good supply of kimonos on hand, put bulletproof glass on the painting, have a guard stationed and a sign limiting protests to 1 minute.

    You don’t like the art, you don’t like the program? Fine…have your say and move on.
    Instead of worrying about such stupid things as this, I would think people would be more outraged at how the peaches have had all the fuzz buffed off them, have no flavor or aroma and rot before they ever ripen.

    I hope the museum brings back the event. Let all the protestors buy tickets and have their say. Better yet, have a sign saying ‘protester are welcome, but you will need a protester license.’

    Ask everyone buying a ticket if they need a protesters license. If so, have them fill out a long license form, photograph them, give them a protest sticker to plaster on their chest and charge them a special $25 protest license fee. If they lie and protest with no license what does that say about their honesty?

    1. “Unless a person is a politician…why does one want to be politically correct?”

      To not be an arrogant, oblivious white asshole to other people who have traditionally suffered at the hands of other arrogant, oblivious white assholes?

      1. Newsflash, believe it or not, only Western Whites (does not apply to Eastern Whites i.e. Russians and other Slavs) are much more often than not the ones nice enough to care about being PC in the first place. White guilt perhaps? Look, I’m obviously not White myself (but as a somewhat mestizo Filipino, I have White ancestry on both sides at least a few generations back), so I’ve managed to mix and mingle extensively with lots of non-White folks and based on my years of experience dealing with them, nobody else comes close to being that conscientious about preventing/correcting racism like Whitey. Hell, it’s a good thing that currently the Whites are pre-dominant in the USA in this reality, because it is a certainty based on history, if for example, *Northeast/East Asians or Southwest Asians (Middle East) or West Asians (Turks) were in charge, slavery of Blacks would never have ended or they would be even worse than they are now as an “unofficial” second-class race (all those other ethnic groups would make it official) and the Native “Red” Americans would all been exterminated already. South Asians (Indian subcontinent) and Southeast Asians (Thai/Viet/Cambodians/Laotians/Indonesians/Malaysians/Filipinos) or native North/Central/South Americans themselves (if for example the Aztec empire had expanded northwards) would simply have maintained a larger version of their own historic oppressive caste systems. *Just look at what happened to the native ethnic minorities in the histories of China and Japan and Korea and the Middle East (actually they’re still genociding them even today i.e. Daesh/ISIS/ISIL and the native Christians of the Middle East). If they’re nicer in the 21st century, it was due to copying Western White people (I will concede, it was Leftists who started it, but that was generations ago, when the Left still had valid points to their idealogy).

    2. ” There was nothing wrong with the show.”

      Ah, well thank you for letting us all know that because a single white person thinks it was okay there was nothing wrong with the show no matter what anyone else says or thinks.

      1. The Japanese also thought there was nothing wrong with the show. In fact, it was the very same show that had been put on in Japan, including the wearing of the kimono.

        1. Yeah. IN Japan. Which is mostly populated by Japanese people. Yes, it is NOT offensive for people to make use of parts of their own culture.

          1. The intention was that anybody could wear the kimono. The Japanese sent the exhibition to the United States on that basis. The Japanese don’t think it’s offensive for others to wear kimono. On the contrary, they welcome it. What gives you the right to tell the Japanese what should or should not be offensive to them?

          2. Excellent point, Michael. So many of the people supporting and defending the protestors seem far too eager to ignore the fact that they, themselves not being Japanese, are about as equally entitled to pontificating on the art exhibit as they say detractors are.

            We all could use a little more self-awareness in engaging in discussions such as these. Or, perhaps, a lot more.

  12. The Monet japonisme show is an excellent idea, getting people to learn about art and cultures is important. The premise of these absurd protests is akin to “black people cant play Mozart”, a racist and bigoted attitude which does not need to be encouraged. The protestors should be ashamed.

    1. Interesting fact. Much of what the Expressionists and others in Europe were looking at as Japanese culture were actually throw away things used as packing material.

      Also, aping another culture isn’t the same as learning about that culture.

  13. All this multi-culturalism has turned the country into a tribe of grievance mongers. How removed from their racial origins are these folks? Two generations, three, more? Get real and get a sense of humor. If your distant cultural origins are so frail they crumble at more than a backward glance, they aren’t worth the hubbub.

    1. I don’t agree. I think multiculturalism has strengthened us by allowing people to express their thoughts, right or wrong. It’s a great thing we can discuss this.

      1. While your optimistic view is refreshing, the PC perspective prohibits honest discussion and problem resolution on significant issues we, the country, face. The protected classes care only for their instant victimization, not for the good of the rest of the U.S. It is unfashionable at best and a hate crime at worst to question this direction. We are as proscribed in thought and speech now as Orwell predicted in 1984.

        1. Hi Samuel,

          This seems to me like the kind of exaggeration that is on par with the protesters saying that the event was similar to attending the museum to see Africans in cages. How are we to gauge what the so-called protected classes care for? A sweeping generalization, is this not?

          If the culture in which we live were truly paralleling the fictive world of 1984, you might well expect officers of the state to take you away in the night for daring to calumny the social order, and you might never be heard from again.

          It’s not very useful to the debate to use hyperbole to make your point. People of color are policing each other agreat deal, but we are doing so largely because the history of the US is a checkered one, and at one point Japanese were thrown into internment camps and dispossessed of all they own simply because they were Japanese during wartime. I don’t dismiss the protesters, but I do think they are mistaken in some fundamental ways.

          1. Very glib, Seph, and FDR, the individual who signed the detention orders, was a democrat. So what? All countries and nationalities have checkered pasts. There is no noble savage. The Nanjing Massacre, the Bataan Death March, the Bangka Island Massacre, are just a small selection from Japan’s checkered past. Their school books make no mention of any of it to this day.
            What is the point of kimono demonstrations?

    2. I usually try to avoid participating in internet comments, but these threads provoked me more than I could resist.

      The problem isn’t that people are being encouraged to wear a kimono. The problem is that they are being encouraged to wear a kimono to imitate a woman who is participating in the exoticization of another culture (ironically or not, and I don’t think this would translate in instagram pictures) during the height of Imperialism.

      Now, that being said, I only find this to be vaguely offensive and I find the protesters to be overly sensitive. At most this would warrant a comment card, because as an academic institution the MFA should know better. This really seems like a tacky marketing ploy to get people to tag #mfaboston in their instagram feeds and a lack of imagination in getting people to engage with the art in a more meaningful way. Ironically the controversy surrounding the kimono photos seems to have achieved this.

      What I do find rather offensive are the people here presuming to speak for whether or not the Japanese/Japanese Americans are offended (generalize much?) and how Japanese you need to be to have the right to be offended. Japan is, racially, a very homogenous place and most Japanese are not very aware of racial issues (in my experience). For what it’s worth I’m half Japanese, fourth generation, and had family in the internment camps during WWII.

  14. Just as an aside, at Giverny, Monet’s home, one can see he collected a substantial number of Japanese prints which hang in the kitchen and dining room. They are are extremely beautiful and interesting and never go on tour.

  15. What’s unfortunate, and troubling, about all this is the missed opportunity to engage all the interested parties in an open and honest discussion about the exhibit, its implications, and its aftermath. Rather than run scared and have the discussion devolve within the confines of a comment stream, the museum should have taken a step back and figured out a way for exhibitors, patrons and protestors from both sides to engage publicly. The other day one of the Democratic candidates for president similarly flubbed an opportunity to engage with black protestors in a constructive way. Whether the shouting originates on the Left or the Right, we should resist the urge to disengage out of fear and instead welcome the chance to challenge one another in a very public way in order to tackle these tough issues.

    1. Dear Ron,

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. Indeed we need to find ways to publicly engage and not flee these knotty, weighty, and important issues.

  16. Thank you, Seph Rodney, for an intelligent and balanced argument. Let’s keep this in perspective–it’s a painting, for heaven’s sake! Some of the counter-arguments come precariously close to cultural censorship. What’s next? Ban this Monet , and any other artworks that might potentially offend 21st-century sensibilities, from public display? That WOULD be genuine cause for protest. We would do better to attempt to understand their specific historical context, and indeed, the MFA could have provided some information to this effect, and should have anticipated the need for it, as this debate demonstrates.

  17. I agree with the protesters. This misled, colonial approach to “multicultural” art education and exhibition tokenizes, exotifies, and makes art museums alienating spaces for people of color.

    1. The question is, how come the specific people of color in question in this case are not alienated at all, but other people of color supposedly are, instead? It’s like what if somebody made a similar exhibit about this, say in China or the Middle East about the French (just to put it in reverse), and it was say, the British (who have traditionally a rivalry with the British, just as the Chinese/Koreans/even Filipinos — the ethnicities who are represented by the protesters — who protested KW have with the Japanese) who protested about it? Would that be right at all?

  18. Several years ago, there was an exhibit at the Pacific Asia Museum here in Pasadena. In one room was a cart of regional Korean clothing, hats, and robes – “costumes” that the public was invited to try on, along with a faux background to take pictures in front of. Additionally, donors and sponsors often wear asian outfits to fundraising events.

  19. A missed opportunity to have critical and thoughtful discussion at the museum. Even though they borrowed the kimono and this dress up activity from when the painting showed in Japan, MFA staff could have been more sensitive to how this sort of activity would play out differently in our society where the kimono conjures up different meanings than it does in Japan (some Americans probably wouldn’t even know that it’s Japanese, just some Asian dress). Different audiences calls for different methods of audience engagement.

  20. Rachel and Jun a married couple in Japan did a video on this subject about how Japanese people feel on this matter. Japanese from Japan. Rachel is from Canada and her view is a bit different. Maybe we should start asking non americanized Japanese how they feel about this and consider what the do in Japan with kimono day and places where you can rent a kimono everyday even foreigners.

      1. She is Canadian. Canada is considered part of the continent North America, which is why it says she is an American. Even Simon and Martina from eat your kimchi are from Canada, but say they are Americans. They use it in continent terms not how we are separated. It’s something I noticed in most of the foreigners living in other countries say. Well mainly if from Canada.

          1. It’s a bit much eh ! As a Scot I was fed up being labelled English by the Non-British. I emigrate to Canada to Canada where friends think of me as Scottish but some non-Canadians think me American.
            Oh well, a rose is a rose is a rose.

          2. If you read my comment, I said the foreigners in other countries I have noticed say this. Majority of the youtubers I watch are living in China, Japan, Korea, or Thailand and when it happens to be a Canadian, modt say they are American from Canada. I wasn’t saying that they all say this,but those few I have seen do and that is what they mean.

        1. You’re probably making that up. Why the hell would a Canadian say they’re from America, when every Japanese person will assume they’re from the USA? Maybe if they were talking about a general Anglo-North American culture./foods/entertainment, that;s udnerstandable since we share those things. But I doubt any Canadian would say they were “American” when asked about their country of origin.

          1. I didn’t make it up I made an honest mistake. I mixed up my Japanese youtubers. Both did similar videos. Honest mistake and I admit I was wrong.

  21. I love Japanese designers whose clothing is deeply influenced by Japanese traditional clothing… fact, many garments are essentially that….as Japanese and exotic as kimono. So, my questions:

    If I wear Comme des Garcons, or Yamamoto, or Miyake….Am I committing a racist act?

    Let me take it further…many artists are influenced by other cultures, Are they committing racists acts when they make use of that influence in their work?

    Cooking is part of culture….Are fusion cuisines inherently racists?
    Is the borrowing of language and phrases from one language to another racist?

    And of course, the central question: Who decides? And even more, Who is authentic and pure enough in whatever domain to decide?

  22. a brief glance at the comments tells me i’m the only/one of few east asians (Chinese, if that matters) on this board so i guess it is my onus to explain to you all why this engagement strategy and hyperallergic article is offensive:

    1. it is highly offensive and patronizing for the author of this article to assume that non-japanese asians are not aware of the history of japanese colonialism. growing up asian and especially as part of an asian country that experiences the effects of japanese colonialism, it is highly present in every day life and cultural interactions. and surprise – even with this knowledge and awareness, it is still possible to find the MFA decision highly offensive. the author basically engages in a form of cultural mansplaining and condescension by assuming that asians don’t have the proper knowledge in order to know when to be offended by appropriations of their culture.

    1.5. Dismissing the voices of people of color as ‘angry’ and ‘irrational’? That’s original:

    2. it is a condition of orientalism that western appropriation/violence against one asian culture affects ALL asian cultures living in the west. probably because westerners have a really hard time telling asians apart. i have firsthand experiences of being targeted because i look like the bad guys in the vietnam war, world war II, and the korean war, even though I am not from any of those ethnicities. being an asian american in the west means understanding that your solidarity is with asians who are not from the same country as you are and who might even have a conflicting political relationship in your homeland, because you are all subject to the same racism in the united states. to call for the silencing of non-japanese asian community is akin to a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy that denies the reality and political power of a united API voice.

    so yeah. any Asian American wanting to engage more deeply in the complexity of these issues is cool. any non-Asian American who feels the need to invalidate my lived experience because they have that one Japanese friend or they went to Japan that one time or they really love Japanese culture so what is the problem? can fuck off.

    1. I find your perception that the world is divided into “white people” and “people of color” to be very problematic. Ironic, too, given that your second point rails against the treatment you’ve received from people mistaking you as Vietnamese.

      Similarly ironic is your accusations that the author is engaging in “cultural mansplaining” (an awful mutation of an already awful, sexist terminology) when that is exactly what protestors are doing by attempting to speak for the Japanese.

      Your lived experience as a Chinese-American does not entitle you to invalidate the lived experiences of the Japanese.

    2. “any Asian American wanting to engage more deeply in the complexity of these issues is cool.”

      Hello, Japanese-American here. Are you aware that the protesters have been continually dismissive of the dissenting Japanese, Japanese American and other Asian American voices who’ve tried to speak up? They are both angry (well, the word they used in their manifesto was “enraged”) and irrational, equating kimono try on to black & brown people dying. Those are facts. Perhaps you’re not aware that the author of this piece is himself a person of color so I doubt he’s speaking from a condescending place. Last week they held a series of signs that read:

      “This exhibit perpetuates violence against Black and Brown bodies. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized people whose histories have been stolen by institutions like the MFA.”

      There’s no stealing of anyone’s history happening with Kimono Wednesdays and certainly not of black and brown people’s histories. This is why people aren’t supporting the protest. It makes very little sense.

      I just compiled a list of everything they’ve brought up and associated with Kimono Wednesdays in their signage and materials because people keep asking me to explain the protests and even after 3 weeks of observation I can’t.

      Early on they complained the MFA was making a mockery by turning the kimono into a costume… clearly not knowing that the uchikake that Camille Monet is wearing in the painting IS a costume from the Exposition universelle de 1867, probably from a kabuki performance. They had a sign reading “The MFA is all about cultural experiences. Try on the kimono. Learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist today!” After the backlash against them having the gall to tell white people that wearing a kimono is racist when no Japanese people (and most Japanese Americans) think that, they said that they never said it was racist to wear a kimono. I understand the sign is open to interpretation but I don’t know why they’re so baffled that people are confused about their message. Most of their signs have contained essays rambling about everything from rape to the remilitarization of Japan and how Japanese Americans don’t get to experience white culture for fun.

      The protest organizers appear to be 3 people of East Asian descent (probably Chinese based on their names), 1 Bengali-American (her self-identification) and one Chilean-born Bostonian (her self-identification). The Chilean does not appear to be Asian. I’m not sure how any of these people are qualified to speak on behalf of Japanese and Japanese Americans when the majority of us don’t agree with their position. I saw one self-identified “Japanese” protester (she’s actually Japanese American per self-identification online). That was all. Their largest protest (I counted 18 people but the Boston Globe reported there were around 2 dozen) was 2/3 Asian and 1/3 non-Asian allies. They say that they’re not speaking for all Asian Americans or for Japanese but if you read their materials, signs, and Facebook commentary they give the impression that they are.

      No one thinks much of their lived experience because they have exaggerated the effect of Kimono Wednesdays on the culture at large using false equivalence to relate it with white supremacist killings. In the beginning I wasn’t sure that I believed they had hijacked this event for their own issues but now that seems quite clear. Japanese and Japanese Americans didn’t ask for or need their condescending protection of our culture nor do most of us want white people to think that wearing a kimono is racist or imperialist. Next time they want to protest an event with a Japanese cultural sharing component they ought to do their homework first and perhaps ask Japanese and Japanese Americans how we feel before barging ahead and telling us how we SHOULD feel (yes, they’ve done this).

      1. I know I will sound like a paranoid loon but for all we know the alleged Chilean American — and even the Bengali-American — are actually Filipino, it’s MO for us (especially those fond of political stuff like rallies and such) to hide behind other ethnic identities to protect ourselves from any retaliation ;p

        For instance — and may I digress here — did you know that Asian-American actor Reggie Lee, best known for his current supporting role as Sgt. Drew Wu on the American tv sy-fy series Grimm is actually a 2nd-generation Filipino migrant of mixed Chinese/Spanish ancestry who’s actual family name is “Valdez” but he changed it to “Lee” (after his maternal grandfather) because casting agents had a dissonance between his appearance (takes after the Chinese side of his family) and his family name (obviously Hispanic/Latino)?

        So, I’m getting a really Covert Filipino vibe here. I may be wrong, but seriously, just how likely is it that a Chilean American and a Bengali American would be so personally offended by something involving Japanese culture? Unless they’re a Chilean American and Bengali American who’s really resentful of Whitey, which is possible, considering how Euro-mestizos/mestizas continue to dominate Chilean society and how the British really oppressed the Indian subcontinent during the British Empire…

        1. I think it might be more clear to you if you’d looked at their photos. I’ve seen them in person. While I admit to not being 100% accurate at picking Filipinos out of a crowd I’m usually fairly good at it. 🙂 The protesters in question did not seem Filipino to me. The Bengali-American is clearly that and while I suppose the Chilean could have Filipino origins there’s been no mentions of the Philippines by any of the protesters.

          What Reggie did is pretty common in Hollywood. Many actors (including white ones) are encouraged to change both their first and last names to seem more desirable to casting agents or audiences. Look at the Sheen/Estevez family.

          ” I may be wrong, but seriously, just how likely is it that a Chilean American and a Bengali American would be so personally offended by something involving Japanese culture?”

          If you’d read their materials, quotes in media, and looked them up I think it would all be clear. “Battling orientalism” is something they do professionally. Their protest has also been joined by whites, blacks, and others who could have been South East Asian or Arab, including men. The demographic they’re really lacking in are the Japanese, just one Japanese American by my count.

          1. They really should pick which battles to fight. I think that most, if not all of the protesters, just have a grudge against White people for whatever reason and they’re just using this as an opportunity to get even.

  23. I’m a re-enactor. There is a major difference between re-enacting and trying on a costume or “garb”.

    Right after this story broke, I saw a Korean friend and asked her if she would be offended if the next time we met, I was dressed in a traditional Korean way. She was absolutely delighted with the idea and judging by the measuring look that she kept giving me as we discussed the issue, I may soon have my very own traditional Korean outfit. Talk about having a tiger by the tail.

    Interestingly enough, some of the protestors in the photos were clearly not of white European descent, yet they were wearing contemporary Western clothing (shorts, spaghetti straps, t-shirts, denim, etc.). Isn’t that cultural appropriation, also?

  24. The idea that culture only belongs to the direct racial descendants of those that created it is ridiculous. Humankind’s cultural heritage belongs to all of us to play with, shape, mix with other cultures and evolve into something new. The museum’s idea was a good one, but the sour faced millennial PC police are not going to allow it. It is interesting to see how deep the stream of Puritanism runs through American culture, it keeps rearing it’s sour unsmiling face with each new generation. NO FUN OR HUMOR ALLOWED HERE.

  25. Art is many things. I appreciate most it’s ability to provoke and stir debate and conversation. Neat and orderly and contained and perfect serves no benefit for me as a critical and culturally engaged viewer. I never knew a thing about any of these issues prior to reading this entire exchange, and now, after reading (without taking a side), I am more enlightened. What society is not improved by that?

  26. In the first photo one of the “protesters” is holding a paper which states “Japanese Americans don’t have the option to experience white culture just for fun.” I can say this, that there are plenty of Japanese who “experience ‘white culture’ just for fun. I know a number of Japanese people and I consider some of them friends. I hosted a student from Japan in my house for several months and got to know him pretty well. He came to America for the purpose of introducing Japanese culture to American students.
    One may indulge in moralizing about racism and finding it well and true as it has always been and probably alway will be. At the same time the “protest” at the BMFA is a weak attempt, poorly thought out, and poorly executed. It smacks of a half-baked, moralistic idea concocted by a surly art professor of how to “man the barricades” sending out her students to correct all of the wrongs inflicted on humanity by the elites. Shame on the BMFA for wimping out! They had nothing to be ashamed of – before they gave in.

  27. What I bunch of clueless misguided morons. In Japan the reaction is more of puzzlement & sadness then anything. In Japan the decline in popularity of the kimono as a form of dress is a national concern. Many Japanese commentators expressed regret that fewer people would get to experience wearing a kimono.

    This was highlighted recently by an article in the Japan times. I am also beginning to wonder if these are Japanese Americans at all. They seem to be imposters posing as Japanese Americans to make the community look bad. My guess they are Chinese and Korean nationals which wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    When I talk to my friends here in Japan they just shook their heads. Surly Japanese are not the ones complaining. However I would like to bring up a point of contention here. There has long been a division between the Asian American population and the mainstream. Of which unfortunately Hollywood and the media hasn’t helped matters any.

    However I don’t have much sympathy for any group which doesn’t stand up for what they believe in. Saving face or not one should speak out and be heard. Park your buts on the doorstep of Disney, Warner Bros, Universal studios and demand they change their whitewashing policies. Do you know how upset I was when I heard “Scarlett Johansson.” Was cast in a movie lead role.

    Which was meant for a Asian lead!!! Give us some freaking credit as we aren’t all a bunch of scumbags ya know. Hell I support that as god only knows it’s about freaking time that happen right. However this isn’t entirely without fault within the Asian American community to some extent either.

    I feel protectionism plays as much a role here as anything. Many Asian Americans speak of misrepresentation yet do little to fix the problem. They continue to shun mainstream society and stick within their social, cultural and racial groups. Not interacting with non Asians and therefore only reinforces the stereotypes .

    However minority or not the Asian American influence is growing considerably and I think we need a change of attitude. We tend not to be very good about celebrating diversity of cultures here to begin with. So I think it’s about time we start and quit playing the race card every time we turn around. From reading some of these responses coming from the protesters.

    It is clear they are very closed minded hateful miserable people. Which probably have had bad experiences with racism and I am sorry about that. However throwing insults around at an entire population of people shows your lack of education, tolerance, respect & honor. I might not know everything about Japanese American culture.

    Nor do I pretend to know that I do. However if given the opportunity to experience some through cultural exchange I will jump at that opportunity. Opening up a bit is not going to kill off your culture. Nor is embracing diversity which is something this country needs. Giving the growing isolationism within our growing ethnic communities. Take that for what’s it worth, just saying

  28. The notion of culture as ethnically specific property has a horrible history as a cornerstone of the most vicious strains of totalitarianism. The protesters demanding a kind of cultural purity free of taint from non-members are appealing to the very worst instincts of humans.
    Colonialism was about theft assisted by economic and political domination. Notions of cultural superiority were an effect of colonialism, not a cause and conflating those two is another cornerstone of tyrannical societies.
    What this protest shows, more than anything, is the extent to which narcissism has displaced the traditional rebelliousness that tends to occupy young people who have a lot of free time on their hands.

  29. These Maoist want everyone to follow their mindless beliefs and those that laugh at their silliness are considered racist no matter if their beliefs are the ones that are truly racists.

  30. I am a kimono fashion stylist base in US and always try to promote kimono as fashion, wearable all over the world. I hope that people all over the world experience the beauty of kimono and enjoy kimono life style.

    I am disappointed that many people still stick to the stereotypic point of view that kimono wearing is the Japanese culture, same as the protesters, the counter-protesters, and the Museum. I always think that kimono will be recognized as a universal formal wear that is beyond cultural and ethnic boundaries. So, I feel sad that kimono was recognized just on the context of Asian culture and belongings. I know many people love kimono in the world, not just as a Japanese costume. We love kimono for its unique form, elegant designs and beautiful color as well as variable combination of obi sash and kimono. We love kimono as fashion.

    Now I am planing to bring real kimono on runway at New York Fashion Week in February, 2016, with kimono artisans in Kyoto, Japan. The purpose of this show is to expand kimono market to the word for saving kimono artisans and the art of kimono creation. For this show, we are fundraising by Kickstarter crowdfunding until July 31 ( Backers contribute to our project from all over the world, not only from Japan. I will produce this show for people all over the world to rediscover that “old-fashioned” kimono is really a “modern” dress with huge capacity of variation.

    This campaign has been funded, but we need more support to organize this show, and to conquer the “old” stereotypic view againt kimono.

    If you are interested in our project, please check our Facebook page at



Comments are closed.