When you wear something that originated from a different culture, it’s important to be sensitive to how and why that culture might wear something. Understanding others cultures that are different from your own is part of being a respectful global citizen. There are so many different types of cultures around the world. It is fun when people with different backgrounds come together and exchange things such as ideas, fashion, jewelry, and music. However, there is a difference between wanting to understand someone’s culture and connect with them versus taking an aspect of a culture and using it for your own interests. In a world full of diversity, we want to make sure we are being respectful of other people’s cultures, backgrounds, and traditions. A kimono originated in Japanese culture during the Heian period between 794-1192. Over centuries it has evolved throughout Japanese culture and has since become a fashion piece that has been adopted worldwide. To know if wearing a kimono is appreciation for a culture or appropriation of a culture, we first must define those two words.
Appreciation of Culture
Appreciation is when we seek to understand and learn from another culture. As we learn we begin to broaden our perspective and connect with others across many different cultures. The key to appreciation is the learning aspect. If you are taking the time to learn and understand more about a culture, you will begin to see what is appropriate to adopt in your life and what is not. If your intention to adopt an aspect of a culture is meaningful and respectful, then these are signs of cultural appreciation. Another good sign that you’re not disrespecting a culture is if someone from that background is willing to teach you. Are they willing to teach you how to wear a certain outfit or make a traditional dish? Do you understand the cultural background of what you are trying to wear or adopt in your own life? Maybe there are pieces of jewelry or forms of fashion that are worn for only sacred occasions. Adopting that into your own life without understanding what it means for that culture could disrespect another culture instead of celebrate it.
Appropriation of Culture
Cultural appropriation is when someone takes a part of another culture and uses it for their own personal interests. This happens when someone doesn’t consider the original significance of what something means in a culture. This could be inappropriate adoptions of practices, customs, clothing, jewelry, or art. When we adopt something from another culture, it’s important we understand how to best bring it into our own lives. For example, you wouldn’t want to misuse religious symbols that are sacred in a culture by wearing them without that context in mind. Cultural appropriation happens when we ignore the cultural context and significance of a certain aspect.
How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation
The good news is that there are ways to avoid cultural appropriation. It’s important that we take time to learn and acknowledge other cultures before adopting certain aspects from them. Some ways to avoid cultural appropriation are:
- Look at your own culture: When you can understand your own culture, you will discover significant things in your culture that matter to you. You wouldn’t want someone else to take those things in your culture and misuse them. This helps give you perspective and sensitivity for other cultures.
- Listen: Listening to others talk about their culture is the easiest way to know if you are appreciating or appropriating. If they are willing to share and teach, then this is a good sign they are okay with you adopting that part of their culture. By listening you can understand the significance of certain aspects of a culture.
- Cultural exchanges: As they share a piece of their culture, you can then share a piece of your own. Both parties are mutually participating in sharing about their culture and wanting to appreciate each other’s cultures.
What About a Kimono?
As we know, a kimono originally came from Japanese culture. To make sure you are acting in cultural appreciation when wearing a kimono, try understanding the history. How did they start making them? Who wore them? Kimonos were used as a cultural identifier in Japan long ago. Today, they are worn on special occasions in Japan. However, Japanese people have shared this part of their culture with the rest of the world. You can even rent a kimono for the day when you go to Japan. When you rent them, you can learn cultural backgrounds and styles of dress from the renters. Because of this, you can embrace cultural appreciation when wearing a kimono.
Kimonos and Appreciation
Sometimes it can be difficult to know if you are appreciating a culture or appropriating a culture. By understanding your own culture, learning about other cultures, and exchanging information cross-culturally, you can understand how to appreciate cultures and what they share with the world. By understanding the history of a kimono and how the Japanese people have shared a part of their culture, you can wear a kimono and appreciate the fashion of Japan.