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Reshaping the “Kimono” in the 20th Century

Sun, June 26, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 107

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


In contemporary discourse, kimono has been defined as a traditional or authentically Japanese garment. While over the course of the 20th century Western clothes gradually replaced kimono as everyday wear, the meaning of “kimono” remained complex. This interdisciplinary panel moves beyond the juxtaposition of east and west to re-examine the boundaries of “kimono” from multiple perspectives, considering its shifting place in Japan and transpacific contexts. Novelists, illustrators, tourist industry marketers, and craftspeople engaged in various negotiations regarding the expectations placed on the kimono. Such nuances are often lost in the dichotomy between kimono and Western clothing.
The chronologically-organized panel shows how various actors used the kimono, and reveals the unfolding set of associations with this garment. Sarah Frederick’s paper “Illustrating with the Kimono” explores the moment when “kimono” was not yet strongly associated with Japaneseness, but was beginning to be used in creative contrast with western dress by authors and illustrators. Gukchin Song’s “Kimonos for American Passengers” illustrates how a Japanese shipping company in the 1920s and 30s used variations of the kimono to provide American passengers with a “Japanese experience” as they crossed the Pacific. Based on interviews with people in the postwar tourist and souvenir industry, Keiko Suzuki’s paper, “Japan’s Souvenir Business for Foreign Tourists After WWII,” shows how they employed but also modified conventional kimono materials and techniques to appeal to foreign tourists. Yoshiko Nakano’s paper “De-geishanizing the Kimono” takes us to the 1950s when Japan Airlines introduced kimono as “national costume” to the air cabins.

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