The Kimono as a Symbol of Nationalized Middle-Class Femininity
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Japanologist and kimono scholar Goldstein-Gidoni writes, "The kimono-clad woman has become a symbol in modern Japan. Like cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, she is one of the best-known symbols of Japan as a nation." The kimono is a symbol for Japan and Japanese culture that can be seen everywhere in mainstream media, from Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha to Kill Bill. In these examples and more, the Japanese woman is curiously never given an alternative costume choice. The man on the other hand, is often seen in Western dress, from the Memoir's Baron to Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito,who adopted western dress fourteen years before his empress followed suit. The kimono is often assigned a static, unquestioned role; the feudal samurai wore it back then and even now, the geisha continue wearing it on a regular basis—as simple as that. However, anyone that has set foot onto Japan after 1945 will quickly realize that its citizens wear Western clothing for everyday life, despite the kimono being the national dress and an iconic Japanese symbol. Additionally, upon encountering a kimono-clad object, be it human or doll, it is more than likely to also be female. Molony writes, "Dress [reflects] public policy; it can be a tool of imperialism; it can be a marker of citizenship, nationality and ethnicity; and it can define or reify notions of gender and modernity"—can the same be said for kimono? One of the goals of this body of research is to answer that question. Another is to apply what Shida means when he writes, "everything in society begins as an invention. It becomes tradition when people ignore [or forget] its origin, inventor and purpose." Can the kimono also be considered an invention? If so, who invented it for what function? The purpose of this paper is to historicize the kimono and the body that wears it as a symbol that signifies gender, national identity, and class by exploring the origins of the kimono, its relationship with Western clothing, ryosai kenbo, nihonjinron, and finally how it cumulates in the lived experience in Japanese Shinto weddings.