Friday, June 5, 2009

How to Look Like an Idiot in One Easy Step

It all began a few years ago when we were invited to a very formal party to honor the emperor’s birthday. My husband naturally assumed that since formal attire was required, I should wear a formal kimono. He talked to his mother and she with great pleasure selected and purchased a suitably fancy kimono and all the necessary paraphernalia. She packed it all up and shipped it half way around the world to us. I didn’t know it at the time, but the whole outfit had cost as much money as a new car. A small Japanese car, but still. It was a truckload of cash.

The day of the party came and I refused to wear my very festive kimono opting instead for a formal European-style dress. I know that my husband was disappointed and hurt, but all he said was “as you wish.”

I tried to explain the motives behind this decision, and while at first he was reluctant to see the issue from my point of view, after the party he finally understood what I meant.

And what I mean was respect. Respect towards the Japanese culture, tradition and even the emperor, because it was his birthday after all. As a foreign woman I had (and still have) no business parading around in a kimono at formal, strictly-Japanese functions. It’s not my culture and I’d look as ridiculous wearing a kimono among the Japanese as my husband would look wearing an Indian head dress at a Navajo convention.

My husband finally realized how peculiar the kimono issue could be when at the function we saw a western woman dressed in a kimono. To say that she looked ridiculous would be a most gentle of understatements. She was a joke of the party, yet she herself was completely unaware of the unintentional amusement her appearance was providing. It was sad, to say the least, and I was glad I stuck by my guns and chose to wear a formal gown.

I am not against foreigners wearing other cultures’ traditional clothing. I actually happen to like kimonos very much. And saris. And kiras. And even native American head dresses. But there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s one thing to put on a kimono when getting married to a Japanese national, or a sari when marrying an Indian. That’s proper, respectful and expected. And it pleases the in-laws, and we all know how important THAT is.

Yet it’s another thing to put on a kimono and blabber about how much you love and admire the Japanese culture when attending a formal celebration at a Japanese diplomatic mission abroad. If you loved and admired this culture so much, you should have made an effort to understand it a little better and used your common sense to figure out the difference between a formal occasion and a cosplay convention. Because let’s face it, that’s what it was – cosplay.

Say what you want about your “deep understanding” of Shinto, if you’re a non-Japanese, your statement will sound ridiculous to a native Japanese.

Why am I writing about it today?

I have been asked to attend a “Shinto” wedding in Poland. The wedding is as Shinto as I am a native Japanese – two Polish manga fans decided to embrace the Japanese culture and thought it would be a grand idea to get married the Japanese way.
They wouldn’t listen to me when I explained that most Japanese brides prefer western style ceremonies conducted by actors playing priests. At least those Japanese brides know it’s all cosplay and don’t claim they do it to “immerse” themselves in American wedding traditions, because they love the American pop culture so much.

The Polish couple wanted me to wear a kimono and perform the traditional tea ceremony as part of their wedding festivities. I declined the invitation. I offered my brand new and never used tea ceremony set as a wedding gift and explained that sadly, I wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding itself. My proposed gift was met with a sneer and the next thing I heard through the internet grapevine was that I was a stuck up pseudo-Jap and an even more stuck up pseudo-Pole.

Oh well… it takes all kinds is my response.

And to that Polish manga otaku couple, see how ridiculous this looks:

White couple 4a

Cosplay at its most pathetic - two gaijins in ill-fitting kimonos at Futarasan in Nikko.

White couple 3a

While others are praying, they are arguing.

I think this couple eventually saw the absurdity of this situation and disappeared in a huff.

“That was really sad,” my husband said. And I think he finally understood what I meant all those years ago.

“And you look MUCH better in a kimono too,” he added. And then, “hey, should we have a shrine ceremony? Grandmother would be so pleased.”

Ah, he knows how to manipulate me, I’d do anything to please Grandmother.

PS.  Expateek has simply impeccable timing and while I was  preparing this post, she send me this:


asian or oriental tutor needed today

This evening asap i need a asian or oreintal person to teach me the asian language. I pay $10 an hour. Send me your contact information and i will call you.

Kaitlin says, “I can’t pick a favorite part: The poster’s need to clarify a difference between Asian and Oriental (or oreintal, I don’t know, maybe he pronounces it differently), needing to know THE asian language, needing to learn the language in ONE night, or pondering over what the poster could possibly need it for.”

Chris also sent this one in, with a theory: he says, “Anything to book that Flower Drum Song audition, right?”

I’m sure it will only take a few hours to master Asian. After all, something like eight billion people speak it — how hard could it be?

From You Suck at Craiglist.

Thanks expateek!


  1. Oh my goodness. I can hardly believe this!
    I never actually thought about this issue, but you're right, there's a time and a place. The couple arguing at the shrine takes at all to an entirely new low.
    As to the Polish manga fans, well. No great loss. And you still have your tea set, so there! Ha. Always a pity to waste a perfectly good wedding gift on ingrates. Apparently, you're a clever and thrifty pseudo-Jap/pseudo-Pole. Well done!

  2. Expateek, they're good kids (well, not really kids, but yeah, anyone younger than me is a kid), just stupid. And I was looking to unload that tea set anyway. It's too bulky and takes up too much space to take it back to Japan. I will have to leave it here in storage anyway.

  3. ummm I know this sounds dumb but when you get married to a native japanese and you're a "gaijin" so to speak...which would be most appropriate for the bride, a wedding gown or traditional japanese wedding kimono (I forgot the name of it lol ^^;).Oh and would the groom's family find wearing a wedding gown disrespectful at all??

  4. Hi Nisean,
    getting married is a totally different thing and it is one of those occasions when wearing kimono is perfectly OK, as long as one spouse is Japanese. But I have seen a wedding where both partners were non-Japanese and they insisted on kimono. And yes, they did look just plain dumb.

  5. Oh thank you again! I was kind of confused about the whole wedding dress vs. kimono thing lol but I'm sure they didn't look at dumb as those two up there least..I HOPE NOT? hehe