The Red Kimono

IMG_0368Without giving away too much of my book, The Red Kimono, there is a part in the story where Mama hands Sachi her red kimono. It is Mama’s offering of acceptance and forgiveness. That’s how, for me, a red kimono came to symbolize acceptance and forgiveness. And so, that is what I call this blog. In so much of our past and present, the world could use more of both.

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Fear of the Huddled Masses

At first, I felt a sense of security upon hearing that more than half of our nation’s governors have said that Syrian refugees would not be welcome in their states.

Courtesy PBS

Courtesy PBS

The day after the terrorist attacks took place in Paris, I wrote about the courage shown by many Parisians. I wondered if I could be brave enough to invite strangers into my home within hours of the attacks.

Today, I read that France will take in 30,000 refugees over the next two years.

There have been times in our past when fear put us on a slippery slope–a slope that, step by slippery step, we slid down, until we moved far, far away from some of the things I value most–diversity, generosity, courage.

History repeats itself. Before World War II, fewer than 5% of Americans thought “we should encourage [Jewish political refugees] to come to America.

And though this situation bears differences from the Japanese American internment–for one, during World War II, more than 60% of the internees were actually citizens of this country, whereas the Syrian refugees are not–the fact that we once again, are making judgments against an entire group of people based on the actions of a relative few, is the same today as it was in 1942.

The vast majority of these refugees are already victims of terrorism. They’ve lost their homes, their possessions, loved ones, some, even their lives. True, there are some logistical challenges to accepting them into our country, but most of the protests I’ve seen have nothing to do with logistics. They have to do with fear.

I agree with The Washington Post’s description of where the refugees now find themselves:

Syrian refugees in the United States have become a political football after the Paris attacks.

In my opinion, the governors of the states denying the refugees are taking advantage of our fears for political gain, making statements like the one made by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a letter to President Obama:

“We will refrain from participating “in any program that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas.”

Why do I think statements such as Governor Abbott’s are made primarily for political gain? Mostly because they don’t appear to be very well thought-out. Denying the Syrians refuge in their states leaves me with the following questions:

  1. Since some of the terrorists in recent attacks were from France, Belgium and possibly Egypt, will you deny entrance from those countries (and others?) too?
  2. How will you prevent these refugees from later relocating to your states from other states? Are you going to put guards at the borders, maybe close your borders?

In a CNN article, Delaware Governor Jack Markell made several excellent points, which you can read here. But the comment that struct me most was his reminder of the quote that appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

This prompted me to read the entire poem by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I can’t put my reaction to this poem any better than Steve did after I read it to him: “What has happened to our humanity?”

I have no doubt I’m as frightened as the next person. But I’m going to do my best to resist for as long as I can, sliding down fear’s slippery slope.

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A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima

Jan Morrill:

If you want to know what it was like that day, 70 years ago, when the bomb was dropped, read this.

Koji says he’s not a writer, but in stories like this one about his family’s history in Hiroshima, I beg to disagree.

Originally posted on Masako and Spam Musubi:

(Please see An Atomic Spark and a 1937 Yearbook and Dad Was in the Newspaper for background information.)

There is living proof of forgiveness from a few – and they let out a resounding message of world peace for us.

My son Takeshi, second cousin Izumi and my cousin Masako at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.


It was an extreme emotional experience – not just for my oldest son Takeshi and I but for the kind souls who joyfully spent their afternoons with us on a hot September day in Hiroshima.  I was able to finally meet – and thank – the people who were kind enough to seek out my father’s 1937 high school yearbook and thereby give my father a joyous remembrance of his most happiest days of youth in the sunset of his long life.


Not being a writer, putting this experience into words is…

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So . . . Can I Wear a Kimono Then?

Jan Morrill:

My frustration with the protesters of Kimono Wednesdays at MFA Boston is virtually personified in this post. Thank you for an entertaining read, Disorderly Politics!

Originally posted on Disorderly Politics :

Hey, guys! It’s been a while. How about a nice little post about the dreaded cultural appropriation. [Insert Twilight Zone theme song.] So, I already wrote a post called The Case FOR Cultural Appropriation about how I don’t think “cultural appropriation” is even a thing, and after a bs controversy on my college campus about some dude having the gall to wear a sombrero at a party, I’ve really hunkered down on the issue. Claims of cultural appropriation officially make no goddamn sense to me. So here’s this shit for me to get pissed off at for your amusement:

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is hosting “Kimono Wednesdays” through July 2015. People are invited to wear a replica uchikake of Monet’s La Japonaise as a way to explore how Japanese culture influenced European art.

I might have actually shilled out the bus fare to go to this event…

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Mind Your Own Business

I thought about using the more polite title, “Live and Let Live” for this post, but “Mind Your Own Business” is much more reflective of how I felt this morning after reading the National Review article titled “Boston’s Kimonos of Oppression.” Originally, this article stated:

…Japanese-American activists raised a ruckus, some claiming that the painting itself was racist (in the 1870s a fad for Japanese things swept through Europe), others that dressing museumgoers in a kimono was cultural appropriation/imperialism/fetishism/“exotification”/Orientalism, while still others called for (you guessed it) “a conversation” about race and identity.

However, after comments and letters of complaint, National Review changed “Japanese American activists” to “Asian American activists,” much more accurate. To the best of my knowledge only one of the “activists” was of Japanese descent.

This protest has been frustrating to me on many levels, and National Review’s error exacerbates that frustration. My head is so full of comments on the dozen different directions taken by the protesters that it would require a separate blog post, which by now, I’m pretty sure I won’t write.

But the foundation of my complaints is this: The group of activists (initially, primarily Asian American) began their protests calling it racist for a non-Japanese to wear a kimono. Though the protesters now disclaim this, here’s a photo of one of the signs from the protest:


They maintained this stance regardless of what many Japanese and Japanese Americans expressed as a desire to share the kimono experience. The Japan Times reported:

But the reaction to the exhibition from Japan — where the decline in popularity of the kimono as a form of dress is a national concern — was one of puzzlement and sadness. Many Japanese commentators expressed regret that fewer people would get to experience wearing a kimono.

In fact, until only a few days ago, the activists titled their protest “Stand Against Yellow Face.” That Tumblr page has been deleted, and now they post under “Decolonize Our Museums.”

This “rebranding” explains why I feel as though those trying to reason with the protesters are following them down a rabbit hole. I believe some of their concerns are legitimate, but they are all over the place, and most have nothing to do with the act of sharing of a kimono.

I’ve yet to read a reasonable explanation for why the protesters chose to latch on to Kimono Wednesdays. In fact, in my opinion, when they accuse the museum of cultural appropriation, I believe they should look in the mirror. For Asian Americans to claim it is racist for non-Japanese to wear a kimono when the Japanese themselves encourage it, is in essence, a kind of cultural appropriation:

Cultural appropriation may eventually lead to the imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices.~~Wikipedia

These activists, whether Asian American or not, are not “the face” of Japanese or Japanese Americans, though the error by the National Review proves that many see it that way. When the majority of Japanese/Japanese Americans want the kimono experience shared, what right did this group of protesters have to cry “racism?”

The reaction by the Museum of Fine Arts to the protesters’ calls of cultural appropriation–that is, to no longer allow people to try on the kimono–took away an opportunity for cultural appreciation.

I feel strongly about what happened as a result of a relative few protesters and the tsunami of reaction it’s caused. But with comments, claims and causes ranging from perpetuating violence against black and brown bodies, to the atomic bomb and militarization of Japan, to GamerGate and sexism in video games, to white supremacy, blah, blah, blah, I’m going to do my best to take a step back.

After all, this began with the sharing of a kimono. I think I’ll mind my own business and get back to my sequel–a story of sharing our cultural differences.

# # #

Other links of interest:

Myths and Facts about Kimono Wednesdays (One of the most concise and informative blogs on this issue.)

Kimono Wednesdays: Was Interactive Art Really “Yellowface” Orientalism?

MFA’s Kimono Controversy Should Spark Deeper Conversation

Outrage Over a Red Kimono?

Underneath the “Orientalist” Kimono


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The Magical Red Kimono

My mother's red kimono.

My mother’s red kimono.

This morning, while giving my children’s story, The Magical Red Kimono, a final read-through before submitting to a publisher, I read a blog comment from my friend, Alice White. In her comment, she mentioned the scene in The Red Kimono where Sachi teaches her black friend, Jubie, to dance in her mother’s red kimono.

When I wrote this scene, I certainly did not intend Jubie dancing in Sachi’s mama’s red kimono to be any form of cultural appropriation, though, according to the Metropolitan Fine Arts Museum’s “Kimono Wednesdays” protesters, it would be.

I wrote the scene, imagining my own mother’s red kimono and remembering my childhood in California, the afternoons when my black friends who lived across the street came over and danced with my sisters and I.

In fact, I created The Magical Red Kimono around it, because we can learn a lot from children who are not so afraid of stepping over the line of political correctness, and not so easily offended. It’s important to share our cultures with each other in a way that brings us closer. Instead, we often cling so protectively it puts distance between us.

As my friend, Koji Kanamoto commented on my blog post, Outrage Over a Red Kimono, “Racism exists in one’s soul, not in a kimono.” How can we change a soul, if we do not share?

EXCERPT from The Magical Red Kimono:

Sachi watched Jubie dance and wondered if there was something magic about the red kimono. How else could her friend—her friend who wasn’t Japanese—look as if she’d danced bon-odori a hundred times before? With each graceful step, the long, silken sleeves  of the red kimono floated like kites in the summer breeze.

It didn’t matter that Jubie’s dark skin was a different color from the Japanese people who would be at Obon. Her dance was as lovely as anybody’s Sachi had seen. Surely Mama would be proud. Still, worry lingered like green beans on her dinner plate.

Just then, she noticed the way Jubie held her tongue—half hanging out of her mouth and wiggling up and down with every step she took. Jubie always did that when she was concentrating, and Sachi couldn’t help but laugh.

Jubie stopped dancing. Hands on her hips, she glared at Sachi. “You laughing at me?” she asked. “Because if you are, just wait until I teach you the Boogie Woogie. Now that’ll be something to laugh about.”

Other links of interest:

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