Gift shop kimono are almost nothing like the real thing, but can Mr. Sato’s fashion aura transcend national boundaries?
Kimono are one of the most popular souvenirs for foreign travelers to take back from Japan, so you might be surprised to know that many Japanese have never bought one of their own. So what’s behind that discrepancy?
The fact that the kimono most tourists buy are exactly that: kimono specifically designed to appeal to the tastes, and budgets, of tourists. Orthodox kimono are made with a level of craftsmanship and quality of materials comparable to a high-end suit or formal-wear gown, whereas the “kimono” you’ll find in gift shops tend to be made with cheaper material and methods that they compensate for with unabashed flash.
On a recent trip to Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood and its Sensoji Temple, one of the most popular sightseeing destinations for foreign visitors to Japan, our Japanese-language reporter Mr. Sato noticed several shops selling these tourist-oriented pseudo-kimono. He’s got no personal beef with the garments (after all, he’s got a rather unique sense of fashion himself), but he started to wonder: Would he, a Japanese person, look good in these these semi-Japanese clothes which were created to be something foreigners would like?
There was only one way to find out, and so Mr. Sato walked into one of Asakusa’s many souvenir shops and bought a hanten, or happi coat. From the prominent English text, especially the bold “MADE IN JAPAN,” it was instantly clear the manufacturer is pitching this to Japanophiles from overseas.
Things got even more “JAPAN” when Mr. Sato took it out of the package and unfurled the half-coat, revealing a half-dozen or so dazzling gold dragons. Just in case someone somehow missed the mythical beasts, the hanten is also emblazoned with the kanji for dragon, 龍, in multiple places, and of course, nothing can truly be accepted as “MADE IN JAPAN” without a whole sakura storm’s worth of cherry blossoms.
Mr. Sato could understand that the design’s intent was to radiate a festive yet traditional atmosphere, and he couldn’t say it failed to do that. At the same time, it’s pretty much the polar opposite of the austere, understated wabisabi elegance of high-class kimono, and it felt a little bit like the tokko fuku “special attack uniforms” that’re associated with Japanese biker gangs.
Would he look good in this? There was only one way to find out, so he slipped his right arm through its sleeve, then his left, and discovered…
…he didn’t look half-bad at all!
▼ “Whoa, I look totally cool like this!” – Mr. Sato
Really, his only complaint is that he thought maybe he would have looked even better if he still had his punch perm hairstyle.
In the interest of full disclosure, though, we must remind everyone of the eternal debate between “clothes make the man” and “man makes the clothes.” Mr. Sato has consistently proven himself to be able to make just about any outfit look good, a result of his rich variety of experiences which have culminated in his unique lifestyle.
So whether you’d look as good as Mr. Sato in a flashy foreigner-friendly kimono is something we can’t say for sure, but he’s not going to fault you for trying.