2015: “Kimono Wednesdays” cancelled at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on grounds of cultural appropriation

February 24, 2016 • 10:00 am

Here’s one of the more ludicrous recent protests against “cultural appropriation”, one that actually succeeded in cowing a famous museum last year: the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It was a harbinger of the “cultural appropriation wars” that are now raging on college campuses, in which, for example, improperly prepared General Tso’s chicken is deemed a cultural offense by Asian students (the dish is actually Asian-American, unknown in China).

The BMFA had scheduled what they call “Kimono Wednesdays,” in which visitors would be able to try on a kimono in front of Monet’s picture “La Japonaise,” a portrait of his wife Camille dressed in a kimono. The painting:

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As the BBC and Boston Globe reported in July of last year, as part of a celebration for the departing director of the Museum, visitors were encouraged to pose in front of the painting wearing a replica of the kimono worn by Camille Monet, to wit:

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There was also a Museum lecture, originally called “Claude Monet: Flirting With the Exotic.” (I do think that title is patronizing!) But this ignited protests that the kimono-wearing and touting of the “exotic” constituted “cultural appropriation and racist ‘exotification’ of Asian culture”. The title of the talk was changed to “Claude Monet: ‘La Japonaise,”, and they stopped letting visitors wear the kimono, though it remained on display. But the protests continued.

The BBC:

Some [protestors] stood with signs next to visitors who tried on the kimono.

“It’s not racist if you looks cute & exotic in it besides the MFA supports this!” one sign read.

Amnes Siyuan, one of the protest’s organisers, said: “A bunch of people tried to prove that they were not racist. That was not the point. We wanted to talk about why this event is cultural appropriation.”

Christiana Wang, another protester, said Asian Americans tend to be underrepresented and are forced into certain categories, such as the geisha or the quiet student.

Wang’s notion is one I don’t understand: are Asian-American women really forced into the category of “geisha”? If so, how? As for “quiet student”, if Asian-Americans retain a cultural tradition of not being loud or brash, surely that doesn’t force them to behave that way, and plenty of them don’t.

The protests:


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As the Boston Globe reported on July 19:

The furor reached new heights on Wednesday as about two dozen protesters and half as many counterprotesters filled the MFA’s Impressionist gallery.

On one side, a group of mostly young Asian-American and white women gathered to protest “Kimono Wednesdays,” demanding additional context for the event and questioning views of Asians as “the other” in American culture.

They held signs with messages like “Not your Asian fetish” and “I have been assaulted, raped, harassed + stalked, denied my humanity repeatedly & you don’t want to think about me because I am just another Japanese woman.”

. . . Displaying a sign reading “Decolonize our museums,” a woman who gave her name only as Pampi, 36, spoke about the need to trace artworks to their first acquisitions, which she said were often violent, and charged the MFA with shirking its responsibility to curate the event for a diverse American audience.

I seriously doubt that the Monet was acquired or borrowed “violently”!

But, as the Globe reported, there were Japanese who supported the exhibit as well:

Stepping into the dispute this week were several counterprotesters wearing kimonos, including some older Japanese women, who advocated for the museum to return to its initial “Kimono Wednesdays” programming. One held a sign saying “I am not offended by people wearing kimono in front of French paintings.” Another sign read, in part, “I welcome museum exhibits that share Japanese culture with the community.”

Etsuko Yashiro, 53, of Concord, who helps organize Boston’s Japan Festival, said she was there to share the beauty of kimonos with an American audience. Ikuko Burns, 79, who was born in Tokyo and has lived in Boston for 53 years, explained how she used to bring kimonos to local schools as a consultant for the Children’s Museum to teach introductory lessons on Japan.

“I’m a little bit disappointed by the other side,” she said, questioning what the protest had to do with Monet’s painting and chalking it up to the participants’ youth.

Here are some women, two in kimonos, confronting the protestors:

Matsuko Levin (center), Danyeun Kim, and Etsuko Yashiro were at odds with a group of younger women protesting at the MFA.. Photo by Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

And another defender:


Even the Japanese consul in Boston was puzzled:

“We actually do not quite understand what their point of protest is,” said Jiro Usui, the Deputy Consul General of Japan in Boston. “We tried to listen to those people who are protesting, but we think together with the MFA we should encourage that Japanese culture be appreciated in a positive way.”

But, as AsAm News reports, the Museum caved under the protest:

“We heard concerns from some members of our community, and as a result we’ve decided to change our programming,” a museum statement read. “The kimonos will now be on display in the Impressionist gallery every Wednesday evening in July for visitors to touch and engage with, but not to try on. This allows the MFA to continue to achieve the program’s goal of offering an interactive experience with the kimonos—understanding their weight and size, and appreciating the embroidery, material, and narrative composition.”

And, as a further concession to the protests, the Museum held a two-hour discussion about whether the exhibit constituted cultural appropriation. Listen to the discussion below if you must; I’ve heard only snippets. (The discussion includes both supporters and objectors to the exhibit.) Some of the participants get quite exercised.

My own opinion? This was neither racist nor cultural “appropriation” (except in the sense that non-Japanese wore a kimono), but a celebration of a beautiful garment. Now if the subjects had made their eyes slanted as a way to mock the Japanese, that would have been rank bigotry. That aside (it didn’t happen), how often does anyone get to wear a kimono?I can imagine why some women would like to try (I would were I a woman!)

I can see the point of protesting the title of the original talk, “Flirting with the exotic,” for kimonos, at least in the past, were not “exotic” in Japan. But the protests went way beyond that. It became unacceptable for Westerners to simply don a kimono. And if that’s the case, then it’s surely cultural appropriation for Japanese to wear Levis, as many do. As we know, Western dress has become the norm in Japan.

This reminds me of the protests against Halloween costumes on the same grounds. But there’s a difference between wearing costumes to mock a culture, to celebrate a culture, or simply to dress up as a character for Halloween. The BMFA display seems to me to fall on the “celebration” side, while the protestors largely fall into the class of Special Snowflakes looking for any excuse to be offended.

Certainly the U.S. has treated Asians poorly in the past: think of the Japanese first- and second-generation immigrants who, despite having become American citizens, were still put in camps in the Western U.S. during World War II under the suspicion that they might be spies. That was insupportable, for at that very same time soldiers of Japanese descent were fighting for the U.S. against Germany. But this exhibit doesn’t come close to that form of discrimination.

It’s curious that at 6 minutes into the discussion, an organizer invites the audience to a reception with “tea and other refreshments”. Isn’t tea a cultural appropriation from the Japanese (and Indians)?

I try to be sensible of real discrimination against groups of people (of course I don’t always succeed), but after long cogitation I can’t see anything in these protests beyond a desire of some young people to be offended by anything. If wearing a kimono is racist, then am I racist when I wear my Indian kurta and dhoti when I visit India? Or even in the U.S.? Is a woman who wears a sari to an Indian music concert engaging in unacceptable cultural appropriation, or even racism?

I don’t think so, nor do I think we must always cave in to those who demand that we not adopt parts of their culture that we like. Surely we can hear them out, but their demands needn’t always be met.

I can dimly discern a bit of a rationale for the protests in the title of the original lecture: Japanese-Americans are not “exotic,” but just another ethnic group that has joined and contributed to the melting pot. But people need to learn that there’s a difference between celebrating a culture and denigrating it. I really do fear what this country will look like in 50 years if the trend of decrying “cultural appropriation” continues.

164 thoughts on “2015: “Kimono Wednesdays” cancelled at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on grounds of cultural appropriation

  1. I find it interesting that someone named Wang is protesting against Japanese culture appropriation. (Maybe they should protest the Japanese appropriating Chinese culture? (Whoopsie, I mean Han culture.))

    I also find it interesting that a woman wants to “bare witness”. I thought that was Pussy Riot’s thing?

    1. Yes, Siyuan is surely Chinese too. I hope they don’t want us to believe that all Asian cultures are basically the same?

      1. That’s something that struck me too (as I sit here unable to play the video because my half-Japanese nephew is asleep in the next room). Asians are not some amorphous blob, and neither are Japanese for that matter.

        Also the woman who felt the need to identify herself as a “white ally,” not just an “ally.” It’s like she feels the need to prove she’s not racist or something.

        My six-year-old niece was telling me about her ballet class last night. She said, “I’m the only one in the class who speaks Japanese.” She doesn’t see herself as any different from her classmates. It’s just that she can also speak another language and some of her grandparents live in Japan.

      2. So, yeah, that’s why we are celebrating a specific cultural artifact from Japan.

        Fair enough to not want to be lumped together! But this exhibit has nothing to do with such an attitude. This is celebrating a Japanese garment. Cool!

        The older Japanese ladies go it.

        I don’t see anyone asking Chinese Americans or Vietnamese or Cambodian or Thai or Laotian or Hmong Americans about “their Kimonos”. I think it almost goes without saying that people interested enough to go to this exhibit would know it’s a Japanese garment.

        (OK, this is stereotypical; but) I don’t think your basic ‘Murican redneck is going to be going to The BMFA or this exhibit either.

        I have personally been offended by the behavior of western tourists (including Europeans) in the great museums and architectural edifices (mainly churches) in the great cities of Europe. (I’m ‘Murican; but I hope I am respectful and culturally sensitive — e.g. I study the languages and the things we will visit; and I become competent in them at a basic level before visiting.)

  2. “Flirting with the exotic”

    They [kimonos] were [exotic] for France in 1876 — the whole point of the title. Many of the Impressionists had a big thing for Japanese art and were inspired by it and collected it.

    1. Yeah, that was my thought. The title “Flirting with the exotic” isn’t bigoted because it isn’t claiming kimonos are exotic now or exotic for Japan, it was a historical reference to Monet flirting with something which was exotic to his time and place.

        1. I don’t know a lot about art, but I do know that anything Asian was considered trendy at the time in Europe. They thought anything from the Orient was interesting and exotic, and that’s what I took the original title as referring to as well.

          1. I just had a look at Proust’s Swann’s Way (set in the 1870s) – ‘Japanese’ appears 9 times in the section describing Odette’s fashionable apartments

          2. Oh horrors! Not only were people appropriating Japanese culture by wearing the Kimono, but the museum was celebrating an artist who engaged in cultural appropriation. The painting must be destroyed, along with all European and American art, architecture and furniture that was inspired by other cultures.

          3. I discussed this with my Japanese sister-in-law. She thought the idea of cultural appropriation in this situation was ridiculous, and couldn’t believe the protest was even happening let alone that the museum had given in to it. So that’s one more in favour of Kimono Wednesdays.

      1. But there will be folks who will claim that even using that historically is awkward or what not. (I don’t know how these folks square it with their usual demand to use “actor’s categories” too.)

  3. Want to know what’s funny about this? In 2014, the same Monet painting was part of an exhibit of Boston Museum of Fine Arts pieces held in Japan, under the theme of “Japonism” in Western art. My own family visited the Tokyo exhibit, which exposed countless Japanese visitors to these depictions of “cultural appropriation”.

    The exhibit made the news here, too – not reports of protests, but only positive coverage exhorting the public to enjoy the exhibit (as in this promotion by national broadcaster NHK: https://www.nhk-p.co.jp/event/detail.php?id=20 )

    The showings were sponsored by major Japanese companies (including the likes of Toyota), and had the backing of Japanese national & regional government bodies, chambers of commerce, newspapers, educational committees, and more.

    The exhibit was a hit in Japan (I’m told), with not a single soul reported to have been offended.

    1. Here in San Francisco we have had two exhibits in the past few years, one of which has just ended, which featured the influence of Japanese art on the Impressionists, as Defaithed said “Japonism” (“Japonisme” in the original French). No protests.
      Some people will find any reason, or no reason, to take offence.

    2. I’m late to this post, so someone else may have mentioned this already, but it seems to me that the culture that is being “appropriated” is French, not Japanese, since the women in the picture are imitating Monet’s “appropriation” of Japanese culture.

      If Americans of Western descent are not allowed to wear non-Western garb, should that not mean that Americans of Asian descent should not be allowed to wear Western garb? All Japanese-Americans should wear Kimonos, all Arab-Americans should wear burnooses, and so on. We will all be required to have a DNA test and carry pedigree papers before wearing any sort of ethnic outfit.

      What a world this is. Thank ceiling cat for human mortality. Either I will outlive the idiots, or I’ll die and no longer be able to be bothered by them.

    3. Meanwhile, Auckland (NZ) just held a Lantern Festival last weekend to celebrate Chinese New Year. It was moved to a bigger park this year to accommodate the numbers.

      And – shock horror – a huge proportion of the people who attended to view the lanterns and displays were NOT ethnic Chinese! Oh, the monstrous cultural appropriation!

      And – even more shocking – nobody (so far as I know) raised one word of protest!


    1. I think it’s rather the people who cave into them who create the votes for Trump. We would find these protesters something to laugh at if they weren’t so successful at their bullying.

      I do laugh at them. I think they’re pretty hilarious. It’s the museum that makes me angry.

  4. That aside (it didn’t happen), how often does anyone get to wear a kimono?I can imagine why some women would like to try (I would were I a woman!)

    The kimono used to be the standard garment for Japanese men, too. It went out of fashion for men before it did for women, but you should still be able to find a suitable kimono to try on.

    I’ve learned a lot about kimonos of late, and it’s an amazing subject. All different levels of formality — think of a comparison between work clothes, slacks and a tie, a suit, a tuxedo, white tie and tails. Many are handcrafted works of art with mind-blowing artistry and attention to detail.

    It’s absolutely something that should be appreciated by everybody regardless of ethnicity, and the best way to appreciate it is to experience it in person. It’s a shame that the museum isn’t letting people wear that kimono, because, for most Americans, it may be their only chance to do so. Even modern Japanese women might only wear a kimono once for a 20th birthday coming of age ceremony.



    1. On a visit to an onsen (hot springs inn) in northern Japan a few years ago, I was expected to and happy to wear a kimono between my room and the baths (thankfully I was the only one in the men’s baths as my tattoos might have caused some disapproval).

  5. Ok, now I’m getting angry. I didn’t buy this Kimono for nothing!

    Seriously, if someone from another country, or culture, wanted to try wearing my style of clothing, or that of any of my ancestors whatsoever, I can’t imagine being “offended” or otherwise terrorized by this.

    Welcome to the Glass-half-empty Life.

    1. Top Hollywood actor in cultural appropriation shock. (The coverage in the Scottish press at the time was positive). I admire the man for wearing it, and damn he looks good (a lot better than I look in mine).

  6. As a Dutch person I would like to take this opportunity to vehemently protest the fact that growing numbers of Americans eat stroopwafels. That is deeply offensive to me! Oh and how dare you appropriate our word for “cookie”?

    1. You don’t count: White European.

      As I have heard several African American “community leaders” say, in public and in print, with all seriosuness: It’s impossible for a black person to be racist against whites. Metaphysical impossibility according to them.

      1. I’ve been wanting to explore the relationships among African Americans, those of African ancestry in the Caribbean and Latin America, and Africans.

      2. My (white) sister attempted to convince me over Xmas dinner that racial prejudice could only be called racism if it was the dominant ethnic group practicing it, that it was incorrect to say that a hypothetical black American who hates all whites is racist – prejudiced, yes, but not racist.

        As a ginger nerd who went to majority-black schools and endured a great deal of racially-based bullying, I was not terribly sympathetic to this redefinition.

    2. I hope you can forgive me for once trying on a pair of clogs. Though maybe I have standing… my ancestry might overlap that region.

  7. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion of what is offensive, but when the opinion of Asian American youth differs so widely from that of the consulate of Japan on the subject of ‘what is offensive to Japanese culture,’ it does make you wonder. At the very least, I’d like to think that they would consider the consulate’s response a relevant data point.

    I’m somewhat ambivalent about the promotion. I can see the appeal for some people and I can also see how it would be irrelevant or annoying to others. It also seems a bit weird, as if they went out of their way to think up a kooky promotion. The adult ticket price for BMFA is $25/person. If they want an effective promotion that gets visitors in the door AND won’t offend anyone, I’d suggest they replace Kimono Wednesdays with Half price Wednesdays.

  8. “Learn what it’s like to be a Racist Imperialist”

    Well, the Japanese don’t need any lessons there. They virtually wrote the book on racist imperialism, though I imagine these po-faced students think they were the innocent victims of US aggression in 1941.

    1. Yes, no shortage of racism in Asia. And sexism.

      I worked with a Japanese Amercian (100% Japanese ancestry, from Hawaii). His wife (“Caucasian”) grew up in Japan (missionary parents!) and spoke perfect Japanese. He spoke not a word (his ancestors came to Hawaii centuries ago).

      When they were on an extensive stationing in Japan for his work, they found that the Japanese simply would not talk to his wife (the only one who could communicate in Japanese) and persisted in only speaking to him (racially Japanese and male).

    2. Monet painted this particular painting in 1875, so it’s actually closer to the era of British gunboat diplomacy against China and the opium wars than WWII. Of course France isn’t Britain any more than Japan is China, but given the treatment of the far east by European colonialist powers at the time, I could see an argument being made that Monet’s choice of dress for his wife wasn’t politically very sensitive, even at that time. You force opium on us so you can make money, and then you dress your wives up in our traditional costumes to boot? How screwed up is that?

      Of course this gets to the question of whether art should be politically sensitive or serve a social justice function. Certainly artists can make their art serve a good cause. But I have little problem with Monet not doing that – choosing to paint his wife in a Japanese outfit simply because he finds it gorgeous and unusual, even while European colonial powers were riding roughshod over Asian nations.

        1. What did the Japanese do to western countries in the 1860s? What’s the parallel event to the opium wars that would be relevant to the question of offense or resentment?

          1. They “appropriated” “our” technology, from fashion to warships to automobiles.

            This entire discussion is insane, IMO. It completely misunderstands the nature of culture and how ideas are shared between people. Culture is nothing but ideas in peoples heads, manifest in the things people create and how they act with one another.

            Ideas cannot be owned.

          2. I don’t disagree. I guess my point was that a reasonable person could understand why, say, a Chinese person might resent the British borrowing some cultural themes or products from them in the years immediately following the opium wars. You come over here, you actively force us to legalize dangerous drugs so that you will have a market to sell them in, then you take our stuff and borrow our modes of dress. Its insult added to injury.

            But a Bostonian in 2016 to wearing a Japanese kimono to mirror the figure in an 1875 French impressionist painting is so far away from my example, that I will agree it’s pretty much insane and my example is not pertinent at all to this situation.

          3. I would not call that person “reasonable”.

            Perhaps that person could be called angry about international relations and how it played out. But angry about fashion? That isn’t reasonable and I very much doubt that anyone at the time was upset about fashions being copied.

            “Cultural appropriation” is pretty much a modern POMO offense.

          4. So, if a US soldier fought in the Apache wars and then in the 1870s donned an Apache costume for fun, the Apache should be okay with that? Because hey, it’s just fashion?

      1. They certainly weren’t riding roughshod over Japan. That country appropriated Western culture and technology almost entirely on its own terms, and to its own advantage.

      2. “You force opium on us so you can make money, and then you dress your wives up in our traditional costumes to boot?”

        I am trying really hard detecting any logic regarding that statement.
        The Japanese force their cars on us and then use our jeans and runners to dress up?

        Opium was just a product, nobody forced any Chinese to take it and most didn’t, and by then way opium at the time was a perfectly legal product and used in England as well. Check the term “laudanum”

        1. It was illegal in China at the time. The British East India Company was growing it in Afghanistan and India at the time, and wanted to make more profit off of it. So the British government fought two wars with China, won both. The second one which ended around 1860 had the conditions for surrender of legalizing the trade of opium, and the stipulation that internal transfer taxes applied to Chinese goods would not be applied to foreign (read: British) goods. Not the finest hour in western history.

          Now yes, its true, nobody forced any Chinese citizen to buy or use opium. But if a foreign nation bombed several of your cities and threatened to continue to bomb others unless you legalized the purchase of the heroin that they happened to be selling, you’d probably be pretty resentful of them too, wouldn’t you?

      3. Why select this one slice of history shared by european vs. oriental countries? Oriental countries had a monopoly on tea sales to Britain at that time. Britain counteracted by selling drugs to the orient from India. Good trade, right? In the meantime, China, Japan, Korea, etc., were fighting for dominance of each others’ lands and that continued into the WWII period. The British, French, Spanish, Germans, etc., also were jockeying for world dominance at home and abroad. It is useless to try to make this a white vs. black/brown/yellow issue or european vs. oriental issue. It’s a human issue

      4. I learned sometime during grades 8-12 that there was also U.S. “gunboat” diplomacy in Japan. It was called “opening” the country (to trade). Just a couple of sentences, that’s about all the textbook said. Not one word to justify it.

    3. My Chinese Canadian friend was angry that our high school history classes in British Columbia never mentioned the many atrocities committed by the Japanese before and during World War Two, from the treatment of allied prisoners to the massacre of entire cities and towns during retreats, the wide spread use of rape, torture and executions to cow citizens, medical experiments on subjects and biological warfare on Chinese civilians. We went to different schools, but I couldn’t recall ever being taught them either, but I was in my 40’s when I talked to him about it.

      1. …and the Chinese did horrible things to the Japanese, and both did horrible things to the Koreans, and the Koreans did horrible things to them, and the French and the Germans and the Russians and the Italians and the British all did horrible things to each other and to everybody in Asia and Africa and and and and and and…

        …and you know how upset Americans tend to get at the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor? Well, many Japanese feel the same way about our nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And you know how many Americans think those attacks were perfectly justified and necessary and for the greater good? That’s how many Japanese feel about Pearl Harbor.

        Just as the Hatfields and McCoys each are convinced that they’re on the side of truth and justice and the other side are infamous and villainous scum undeserving of respect.

        At some point, you have to just let it all go, recognize that war really is Hell, decide that you ain’t gonna study war no more, and join hands down by the riverside. Never mind who is and isn’t right; just recognize that whoever’s left is a real human being with real hopes and fears and pain and pleasure, and that you’re both better off extending hands to each other in peace than swinging fists at each other in anger.

        Maybe even walk a mile in each other’s shoes, and not worry about who is appropriating whose soles.



        1. I’ve lived in Japan for over 35 years and it’s a very small minority of right-wing extremists who think Pearl Harbor was justified and are upset about the A-bomb attacks. The most common response to both is that the government was hijacked and did stupid things and the people suffered because of it. There’s still a great distrust of government in Japan even now.

          On the theme of the kimono display at the BMFA, Japanese would think it’s great, that it’s showing a good side of Japanese culture to the world. A neighbor of mine lived in the US for several years and taught Nihon buyo (Japanese dance) there, which included wearing a kimono. That was educational and fun for the participants to see something from a different culture and learn about it. Wouldn’t trying the kimono on be similar? Wouldn’t it stimulate the imagination to feel what it must have been like to be Japanese and wear a kimono or even to have been Monet’s wife wearing a kimono?

          It’s like you have to consider the reasons for doing something. Is it to make fun of or put down a group of people? If yes, then it’s bad. If it’s to educate and explore the different ideas and culture in the world, to expand our understanding of other peoples and countries, then it’s good.

    4. Well, seeing how the Japanese-American students there are probably descendants of those rounded up in concentration camps, I would think, yeah, they might see themselves as innocents in the face of US aggression.

  9. Aw, I thought appropriating something unique (and cool)from a culture, such as a kimono, was a salute and a high-five to that culture, in the best possible sense of those words.

    Carl Kruse

  10. If I could only do same thing against garbage that is served in name of “Indian food” in North American restaurants, “Bollywood dances” that hardly reflect Bollywood and the whole yog or yoga craze

    1. Not all Indian restaurants in the US are bad (not commenting on Canada). My Indian colleagues in Orange County took me to some fine ones that they said were quite authentic. I loved the food.

      But I take your point that the majority serve poor imitations of Punjabi food (only). (But I still like it! Guilty pleasure I’m afraid!)

      I worked with people of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Vietnamese heritage. Generally speaking, they did prefer the restaurants that were not of their own ethnicity — primarily due to lacking authenticity (they didn’t want me to experience poor examples — fair enough).

    2. Authenticity is one thing. Tasty is another. I could frankly care less whether the food some Indian restaurant serves me is truly authentic or is really just some fusion of cooking styles from the US and India. So long as its enjoyable, I’m happy. Maybe that makes me an uncouth American, but I say: throw more tastes into that melting pot!

      1. Exactly! It’s not like there is some pure cultural food anywhere on earth. It’s all the product of invasions, migrations, imports from traders, etc. Let the invention continue apace and forever!

          1. Corn, tomatoes(!!!), potatoes, cocoa (!!) and many many others are exclusively of American continental origins. Pre-Colombus none of these things were available to the rest of the world.

            On behalf of Native Peoples (that’s how you do it, right… in their name when you’re not one of them), I demand that all other places in the world cease and desist with their cultural appropriation of Continental food items. I’m looking at you “Fish and Chips”, and you “Pizza and Marinara Sauce”. And above all, I’m looking at you Swiss and Belgian chocolate makers… How can you live with yourselves?

          2. I remember a minor conflict in my high school – kids of Italian descent bragging about their grandmother’s pasta sauces. One claimed that their family’s tomato sauce dated from the 14th century. Oops. 🙂

  11. Well, there you have it.

    For all future performances of Madame Butterfly, Cio-Cio-san will be have to wear blue jeans and a t-shirt. Wait…the t-shirt might get blood soaked. All future performances of any Madame Butterfly cancelled. Wait.

    Here we go: All future performances of any opera with rape or murder or infidelity are now banned.

  12. Although white European, I am with Tom. I am going to organize folks with Amish/Mennonite backgrounds to protest the cultural appropriation by hipsters of beards without mustaches.

      1. COme to think of it, a LOT of cowboys after the civil war were African-Americans, Hispanics and Indians, all never seen in a multitude of John Wayne moveis, which really IS a pretty bad form of “cultural appropriation”. But keep wearing and posting them, JAC

        1. Wouldn’t that be ‘cultural non-appropriation’?

          (‘Cultural misappropriation’? ‘Cultural inappropiation’? Ummmm.)


  13. Many gay bars and clubs in Japan have little notices at the entrance ‘respectfully requesting’ that foreigners do not enter. Oddly, one that did let me in was a ‘Fundoshi Club’ in Tokyo, where everyone has to wear a fundoshi (the Japanese loin cloth). I would say that promoted international relations quite effectively.

  14. What are the rules of this bizarre game?

    I know I can not credibly protest the wearing of blue jeans or suits and ties by the Japanese, though those things unambiguously came from outside Japan. So somewhere that must be a rule.

    I suppose in some places one might argue that Western dress was adopted under duress, and so isn’t appropriation but evidence of colonial cultural destruction. If so, though, you’d think that there would be some movement to reverse that tragedy and restore traditional dress.

    It is my understanding that brides frequently wear Western style wedding dresses in Japan now. That is a fairly recent phenomena, not adopted under duress, I believe. Should I be protesting that cultural appropriation? Or is their position as the 3rd largest economy in the world render them still the virtual victim of our overbearing largest economy in the world?

    Some of my friends attempt to practice Buddhism. I’m sure they are doing it wrong, and this bit of culture certainly didn’t originate anywhere near their Nordic origins. Perhaps they should be forbidden from trying to appropriate that bit of culture?

    Downtown in my city there is a fancy tea house run by a person of European descent. There you can have an elaborate Japanese style tea ceremony, but there are no Japanese in sight. Should we protest this too?

    A Chinese friend of mine gave me a painting on silk from China. Am I allowed to display it? A Western friend brought back a traditional Chinese shirt from Shenzhen. Am I allowed to wear it? Would it be different if it were given to me by a Chinese friend?

    If the point of the exhibit were to laugh at or ridicule Japanese culture, I can see people being a little miffed at that. Otherwise, this strikes me as an unbelievably incoherent project.

    1. What are the rules of this bizarre game?

      The rules are quite simple.

      1. If you are a white westerner, your choice to enjoy some non-western outfit/song/food/tradition is wrong.

      2. For all others, it’s okay.

  15. Seriously ‘cultural appropriation’ is how cultures progress. We borrow techniques and ideas from other cultures. If all this borrowing were forbidden tomorrow, about three-quarters of the English language would disappear (all the words derived from Greek, Latin, French, for instance). What would we call tea (borrowed from Chinese)? Could we even drink tea? Coffee? What would we call a kindergarten? Would we even have kindergartens? The idea was borrowed with the word. It’s legitimate to protest the sports-teams that make millions out of ‘Chiefs’ and ‘Indians’ and worse, ‘Redskins,’ without giving back one red cent to those being exploited, but I don’t think General Tso cares a rap over fried or boiled, and important nations like Japan can look out for themselves.

  16. Until someone can explain the rationale behind protesting against “cultural appropriation” and not sound like a spoiled brat, I will continue to disregard it as a thing.

  17. I think I better understand the very odd thinking of these protesters. Mostly they look under every rock for racism or just to find fault with the actions of others. It is extreme and almost beyond understanding. It’s like the guy who rambles on about killing animals if you even show a few pictures of going fishing.

    I lived in Okinawa for 5 years and nearly all of my employees there were locals. My wife got to know several people and they went out and did things together. One thing she participated in to the great excitement of the other ladies was to learn the serving of tea at special occasions. Part of doing this was to wear the proper Kimono dress during the service.

    I can only wonder at how confused these friends of ours would be to see this.

  18. Flirting with the exotic,” for kimonos, at least in the past, were not “exotic” in Japan.

    I’m a little puzzled by this too. Sure, they were not exotic in Japan, but they were and are exotic in France. I can see, of course, that merely being an person of Asian descent is not “exotic”. They are just people. So it can be annoying to be an ordinary American and be approached like you are something exotic. I don’t see how the attire itself can not be construed as “exotic”, though. Or, for that matter, the entire culture of another country, like Japan.

    originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country.

    In what possible way is a kimono NOT exotic to an American? So are clogs. It’d only be not exotic if we all wore them. If Americans are not to regard a kimono as exotic, then the word “exotic” itself must surely be excised from the language.

  19. My culture is Western and of largely UK origins. It is a cultural tradition of Western Europe and especially the UK (and now Can & US) to adopt other cultures and integrate it (e.g. agriculture, tea, textiles, spice, etc.). So does that make a fundamental aspect of my culture fundamentally racist?

    1. I guess so. Evidently, I should be quite ashamed of liking willow pattern china, wearing a lavalava, eating kebabs.

      My Asian homestay students like pizza and fish and chips. A few days ago they tried hot cross buns; tomorrow,we’re having my imitation of Mexican food, except we’ll use thin crust pizza bases by way of experiment instead of the usual tortillas. Oh, the humanity.

      People from any society take and adapt stuff from other societies to suit their own tastes – it’s called fusion – while the original people can still maintain their traditions, if they so wish.

  20. I can’t even see how cultural appropriation is a thing. Except perhaps in instances where one culture was claiming to have been the originator of something created by another.

  21. I really like the Japanese woman who talked about SHARING her culture. Isn’t that what it is, and a positive thing at that?

  22. Am I the only one who sees a subversive element to this whole ‘cultural appropriation’ thing? These kids aren’t stupid, they must have thought it through. If you can ban all consideration of other cultures then only white culture can be presented. I’m sure that the Donald approves of their efforts.
    BTW, I am very offended that this website that is hosted by a secular jew is discussing appropriating elements of white culture. And don’t get me started on the speciesist oppressors who rob the noble Herons of their images without compensation or even credit except to lump them all together as herons as if they don’t have individual aspirations or even dignity.

  23. Does this mean I have to stop cooking boeuf bourgignon and calling my cat Babette? I really do not understand: What the hell is cultural appropriation? Nobody is taking anything away from anyone?

  24. “Isn’t tea a cultural appropriation from the Japanese (and Indians)?”

    Well, tea was introduced into India from China by the British. You may have the courage to tell 1.252 billion Indians to stop drinking tea but I certainly don’t.

    (Indian army tanks (like British ones) are equipped with “boiling vessels” to enable the crews to make tea inside the vehicle – just try discussing “cultural appropriation” with a tank crew…)

      1. I have read that just before the WWII Battle of the North Cape, where the British battleship Duke of York engaged the German battleship Scharnhorst, the most pressing question on the DoY’s bridge was whether the ship would take tea before the battle or after it. Finally it was decided: the ship would take tea before the battle.

        Must have one’s priorities right!

  25. So, “multiculturalism” is a good thing, but “cultural appropriation” is a bad thing.

    Anyone know of a guidebook to help us tell them apart?

    1. Multiculturalism and the prohibition on cultural appropriation are the same thing.

      Multiculturalism isn’t about saying “let a thousand cultures bloom and cross pollinate”. If it meant that, it’d be a great thing. That idea is anathema to multiculturalists! A “melting pot” is aggression. There are no “melting pots” in multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is about having a society made up of impenetrable cultural silos that remain separate and impenetrable for all time.

  26. I think I’ve posted about this before. I spent the summer of 86 in Shanghai, China. On 4th of July, the waiters in my local restaurant wore cowboy outfits. I would never think to be “offended” by cultural appropriation.

    1. shame on you for not protesting “cultural appropriation”. You should be stripped of your status as a westerner…whatever that means considering a constant stream of immigrants and refugees.

    2. And I want to register a protest against cultural imperialism. Inflicting innumerable cowboy westerns on innocent and impressionable children of all ages throughout the world. The US can never, ever be forgiven for John Wayne!

      1. Cowboys themselves are an example of cultural appropriation. They originated in Mexico, where they were called “vaqueros” from “vaca,” the Spanish word for “cow.” Americans pronounced this–believe it or not–as “buckaroo.”

  27. How ’bout in regards to clothing,we all go back to skin. Fig leaves, penis gourds, grass skirts, etc. were cultural appropriations. “Denim” came from “d’Nimes” in France. Silk came from China. Cotton cloth came from India. Trade took them all over the world.

    What makes anyone think that cuisine is not an
    amalgam of tastes from everywhere anyone has traveled (whether in an army, or not?) Stuffed Grape Leaves are cooked and eaten all around the Mediterranean in so many different variations (the one I like best is Armenian).

    This blending and sharing of cultures is wonderful. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, for example, the population is so diverse that authentic cuisines of many cultures are present to be enjoyed. As a lifelong collector of recipes from family, friends, coworkers, and people from other countries, I’m all for sharing.

  28. This is what we Brits used to call poppycock! What could possibly be more racist than to say “you mustn’t do XXX because you are racially YYY”?

  29. The more I see it, the more I feel that cultural appropriation is just a “heads I win, tails you lose” concept intended to never be wrong : if a Japanese man drinks Coke, that’s imperialism ; if an American man drinks sake, that’s cultural appropriation (of course, I know it isn’t always the case, and some examples remain relevant).

    But Japan being as developed as many Western countries, I think we should organize mass demonstrations against Japanese appropriation of Western culture. Being French myself, I should protest at the kind of badly written French they have everywhere in their streets (http://lefranponais.fr/). Instead, I enjoy it and laugh at it. But I guess that should be called cultural appropriception.

    Also, do you know why French is a Romance language and not a Germanic one ? Because the Frank invaders “culturally appropriated” Latin culture. So much for cultural protection…

    1. And why do French Stop signs all say ‘STOP’? Not sure if that’s cultural appropriation or cultural imperialism…

      (I did a double-take the first time I saw that on StreetView)


      1. Neither. It’s simply much shorter than any proposed translation (they do have “arrêt” signs in Quebec, but technically it’s only a noun (a more correct translation would be “arrêtez-vous”), and they’re considered French language fundamentalists in France).

        Also, this isn’t only France, but also neighbouring countries : remember that Europe is a place with many languages. If each little country sticked to its own peculiar language for things as basic as common road signs, it would be hellish to navigate. Most of the time, they prefer pictograms, though.

  30. Visiting Hawaii quite a long time ago, we were in a cultural center of some kind to watch traditional hula. The female dancer introduced the demo by admonishing us tourists about having invaded Hawaii and influenced the native culture and art toward new, “modern” forms. This went on for 5 or 10 minutes with quite a bit of anger in her voice. I felt like leaving, but I was with family. I didn’t mind the expression of opinion, but I felt the audience had been trapped. I did feel a bit what it is like to be a minority within a dominant culture.

    Living in a culturally mixed world does require sensitivity, I agree. Education is the key, and polite conversation. I thought the video discussion showed a lot of restraint and a useful exchange of views.

    1. You won’t get that at a Cook Islands dance performance, whether for tourists or for the locals. Not only will they appropriate anything that seems to fit, but if a visitor is brave enough to try the Cook Islands dance moves they are genuinely pleased. They may also laugh a lot but it’s a friendly laughter.

      But then, they have never been properly educated about the importance of political correctness.


  31. I’m saddened and bemused by what’s been happening lately. Is the younger generation becoming a little too eager to glom unto some social cause to rally behind, even a silly one such as this? There are so many other worthwhile causes out there, dying to be championed. Get a grip!

    I miss the good old days when imitation was said to be the sincerest form of flattery. What’s wrong with people getting excited or enchanted with each other’s culture and want to try things on for size?!? When has it become *admirable* to erect barriers between peoples and cultures, particularly in these too interesting times?

  32. I wonder if Pampi thinks all those French Impressionist paintings was have in DC, Philadelphia, and NYC were violently acquired… as opposed to them being bought from the artists because the French didn’t like them but they sure tickled the fancy of Americans.

    1. Or maybe bought from dealers… not least because the Americans had more money.

      But that’s a totally separate issue.


  33. I am offended at the Asian protesters wearing western clothes, even worse they are probably made in a Far Eastern country. Why can’t they wear their own clothes.

  34. Meanwhile, Auckland (NZ) just held a Lantern Festival last weekend to celebrate Chinese New Year. It was moved to a bigger park this year to accommodate the numbers.

    And – shock horror – a huge proportion of the people who attended to view the lanterns and displays were NOT ethnic Chinese! Oh, the monstrous cultural appropriation!

    And – even more shocking – nobody (so far as I know) raised one word of protest!


  35. It’s simply amazing, the depths to which these “Thought-Nazis” have sunk: next, they’ll be calling for doing away with all foreign language courses, as speaking a foreign tongue is “cultural appropriation”. ANY of their arguments, when examined closely, dissolve into absurdities- can’t they see it?

  36. Cultural appreciation is not the same as cultural appropriation. And let’s look at this specifically. Japan was heavily influenced in its architecture, landscaping, gardening, religion, dress, philosophy, and use of tea by the Tang Dynasty in China. Does this mean the Japanese were being culturally inappropriate? Uh, no. They were learning and adapting by using another model. And they were very successful at it, combining outside influences with their own indigenous ways of doing things. What about the Japanese who, particularly after WWII, adopted western clothing. Were they mocking Westerners? Uh, no. And millions of people in East Asia who use forks and knives in addition to chopsticks? Mockery? No.

    Caucasian Americans certainly have inappropriately mocked other cultures and ethnicities (e.g., blackface), but not all instances of participation or desire to try the “other” are such cases.

  37. Oh yeah, another thing: pajamas were invented in India, so everyone who isn’t Indian needs to stop wearing them right now.

    I’m not Indian, but I’m saying this as a White ally.

    By the way, have cis-women started accusing trans-women of “gender appropriation?” If not, it’s a matter of time.

    1. “By the way, have cis-women started accusing trans-women of “gender appropriation?” If not, it’s a matter of time.”

      Some radical feminists (known as TERFs) already did that.

      1. Back in the late 80s I used to enjoy wandering round at random in the University library, and I still remember a book called something like “The Transexual Empire”, which accused “male to constructed female” transexuals of “colonising” women.

  38. That’s it as an Irish person, I demand that all St Patrick’s day parades, are no longer to be allowed! That every Irish pub in the world gets closed down, that every Leprechaun movie be deleted from existence, that Halloween never be allowed to happen ever again (yes it is an Irish tradition taken to the US), that no eats Irish stew, drinks Irish whiskey, Guinness, says “top of the morning”, is allowed to wear green hats, and all these other things on this link! https://www.tenement.org/blog/a-parade-of-irish-traditions/

    For goodness sake how can we come to understand the world as it is if we do not interact with each other and understand the practices of each other! This “appropriation” stuff is so over the top that we will see each of us as “others” and want to exclude instead of realising that culture is formed by being part of a “tribe”, and endemic to it and forget that we are all just part of the Human race and all of its experiences!

  39. I live on the Canadian side near many forts from the war of 1812 (Canada (Britain at that time) versus U.S. more or less)

    The forts are open as tourists sites. Part of the fun for adults and children alike is to try on the “redcoats” of the soldiers.

    Because these forts are close to Toronto, a large number of the tourists are Asian (directly from Asia on vacation, or immigrants of first or second or third generation from Toronto).

    They try on the coats. This is BAD!
    Worse is that AMERICANS try on these coats! Horror of horrors!!

  40. If your sign reads:

    “It wouldn’t be so bad w/o white instutions condoning erasure of the Japanese narrative + Orientalism which in turn supports dehumanitizing + fethisizing AAPI (Asian Americans & Pacific Inlanders) + it is killing us.”

    then your point is just not that good.
    I mean, really, just read that sign two times and say you understand what it says, because I sure as hell don’t understand it one bit.

    This little snowflake needs to try to find ways to be offended that result in more coherent signs.

  41. The only conclusion I can reach is that college students nowadays are simply not receiving enough homework assignments.

  42. The Kimono wether worn by man or women is one of the beautiful and exotic pieces of clothing ever worn, and to not be able to see and touch because of a small group pressuring a museum like the Boston can only suggest that, that they and many other institutions have no Balls and guts.

  43. Essentially all culture in North America is “appropriated” from the cultures that appropriated bits and pieces from other cultures back to the beginning of humanity.

    The words I have just now written represent more appropriated cultures.

    I wish New Englanders would just get over it but I suppose some place must be designated for this kind of weirdness.

  44. I, for one, welcome our cultural opprobriationist overlords and look forward to our future when it will only be legal to talk to ourselves and about ourselves and know that no one is listening.
    Oh, wait, there’s the internet. The future is here!

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