Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why an Asian Face Doesn't Guarantee Cultural Authority

Being an American who does kimono educational panels, I've run into Americans face-to-face at all knowledge levels regarding Japan. Everyone from "Japan=China, right?" to "You didn't spend enough time on the importance of color in Heian court wear and your obi is 3cm too low."

Ok, I haven't met any panel-goer in real life like the second example yet but when I do we will have an awesome duel of some kind and I will get a transformation sequence. XD And then they'll probably blow me away!

Anyway, one attitude I've often encountered is the mistake of non-Asians in America trusting something wholly because an Asian person is wearing or selling it. This mistake may make some of my readers' eyes roll in its obviousness, but I hear and see it enough I figure it's worth making a post for.

One example I've mentioned in my panels regarding this is a classic Chinese-made Bruce Lee movie, one which is set during the Japanese occupation of China and called "Fist of Fury" in English.

Watch this clip and see if you can spot the Japanese clothing problem... the answer is at the bottom of this post.

Whether the Chinese filmmakers did this to poke at the Japanese, who they've historically had tension with over the centuries, or whether it was a mistake it's a classic example of why you can't assume anything just because it's being worn by someone with an Asian face.

A lot of the fake kimono sold on Ebay are put on random Asian models as well, adding that pseudo-authenticity feel, and I've had delicate conversations with people who have bought fakes, claiming that "they came from Asia/I bought them from an Asian person... so they're real" and that I must not know what I'm talking about (I have a Caucasian face ;) ).

Beyond the simple truth that Asia is a vast place with many different countries and cultures, there is the fact that many (especially young) Japanese don't know much about kimono. It's a fairly esoteric and traditional topic, about like knowing the intricate details of square dancing, for my fellow Southerners out there. So not even a Japanese person can be a guaranteed authority on kimono.

The best way to tell for sure is to compare the garment and how it's being worn to as many other photos or pieces of information as you can from informational sites that are not selling anything. You can also drop me an email and I'll be happy to help if I can. :)

The Japanese characters have their hakama (the big, baggy pants) on backwards. The stiff board goes in the back and the ties are done in the front.