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How the kimono became a symbol of oppression in some parts of Asia

Still Waters

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A woman in Suzhou, China, was reportedly detained recently for “provoking trouble”. Her alleged crime was being spotted outside wearing a kimono. The woman was dressed like a character from a manga (a Japanese comic). Arresting her might seem dramatic but there is more at play here than a simple fashion faux pas.

Clothing is a cultural identifier and, to many, a symbol of national identity and pride. When you think of the kimono you might think of Japan. However, the garment is rarely worn in Japan now, other than at traditional festivals or celebrations. As a result, the kimono industry, which experienced a boom in the 1980s, is currently experiencing a massive downturn.

The kimono worn today, however, is not an indigenous invention of the Japanese. It can be traced back to the 7th century when the Imperial Court began to wear garments adapted from Chinese styles.

Despite these Chinese origins, the kimono is a major cultural signifier of Japan globally. And, in many Asian countries, particularly those which were brutally colonised by Japan, the kimono remains a symbol of oppression.


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