I am currently writing a book that argues adamantly for the wearing of kimono in the contemporary world. The internet has created new opportunities for kimono makers and sellers to market their products around the world. The logical outcome of this is an increasing number of non-Japanese wearers. 

The foundation of my book is research I did myself in Melbourne which I will document in the book. The interesting thing about performing this survey, as I describe in my book,  is that by dressing as an innocuous character and posing one fairly open question, I freed people to say what they were really thinking. (Below are pictures of myself doing the research in costume and pictures of the results.) 

My thoughts have changed again in terms of what I think my book should achieve. I've had the realisation that it simply won't do to simply write another academic style book and then just hope that some non-kimono person will somehow come across it and be converted. It's a terribly poor strategy if I want to reach people who might not have really thought about kimono all that much, but still have the potential to become interested. 

The thing I've noticed is that books and videos on how to put on kimono don't help the problem much. The fact is that in Melbourne there are at least two businesses offering people kimono dressing or kitsuke lessons, but so far as I know, few if anyone attends these classes. Even the recent explosion in the availability of kimono has done little to change the Australian wardrobe. 

The real problem is that even classes, even kimono contests, even books on kimono, do little if anything to actually connect their readers to the idea of kimono as an everyday garment. The majority of resources on kimono, knowingly or not, are cultural descendants of hierarchical thought. When Japan and the kimono were first being exposed to the West, it was at a time when cultural trends tended to paint more difficult and complicated forms of dress and art as better and more sophisticated. So, to prove the worth of kimono, kimono was presented as highly complicated. Even passionate daily wearers of kimono have a tendency to treat their kimono collections in a way they would never treat Western clothes; as though they are impractical and ornamental rather than natural.  

That isn't to say that kimono dressing is never complicated. But the most complicated styles of dressing were historically the rarest and most formal. The everyday things people used to wear were much more simple and easy. 

It may be tempting to object and to argue that however easy kimono could be to wear, it wouldn't change the social stigma and drama that has come to surround cultural dressing choices. nor would it improve the lives of traditional Japanese artisans, who are facing a crisis of mass extinction But the fact is that history can be examined for patterns of change. The history of the sandwich offers up a good example of how convenience, rightly placed, can bring a hated item into popularity. In America, sandwitches weren't originally well thought of. The American Revolution meant that there was a longstanding enmity between America and Great Britain. Since the sandwich was a British invention, Americans did not see it in a positive light. One factor that changed this was the invention of sliced bread. It meant that American mothers had a good incentive to send their children to school with sandwiches for lunches. Sliced bread met a need which no other food at the time could. But the irony is that even though school children began eating such rudimentary sandwiches at first, sandwiches came to be seen as so normal and so American that increasingly sophisticated forms of sandwich were being made to represent different American states and cities. 

Similarly, I believe that if I can invent and market a version of kimono that is so convenient, so easy compared to Western dress that no parent can resist it, It doesn't necessarily have to be convenience that is the need being met. The people who wait in line to buy the latest iPhone go through intense amounts of inconvenience. But they consider this to be worthwhile because iPhone's surrounding culture gives them something they can't get any other way. Owning the latest iPhone gives people a way of feeling equal to or above other people. It gives them a way of feeling connected to the people around them. 

So while I do certainly want to try to create contemporary institutions which cause parents to dress their children in kimono, I also have to look at a factor both of these situations have in common. That is that both had the endorsement of powerful public voices. Sandwich eating was encouraged both through marketing and through the education system. Apple products have been marketed for a very long time and in many ways. There is also a communal participation. Kids eat sandwiches together. People buy and use apple products together. So, the idea of a kimono community is and important concept to endorse. 

But, before I get to any of that, I want to point out the fact that kimono buyers in Australia are set up for failure. Kimono shops in Australia will tend not stock all of the accessories and gadgets people would need to wear kimono well. So people keep wearing them badly. Or not at all. Worse yet, even if someone does successfully gather all the requisite accessories, every resource they will encounter will assume that they have a perfectly fitting kimono and obi. For the contemporary casual buyer, this will almost never be the case. 

So, it is important to develop new ways of wearing kimono that look good without using any/many of the usual tools. I am thinking about forming a kimono course based on this concept. I'm thinking of testing it out on people before I roll it out as a real product. But the main thing I've learned is this: Very few if any Australians will ever be able to accept the concept of an ohashori. So, instead of teaching people to form an ohashori as they put the kimono on, I will likely teach them to hand sew a fold where the ohashori would be. Existing ways of wearing kimono rely too heavily on friction for stability, instead of depending on gravity and fastenings. One way around this might be to add fastenings to kimono. I haven't quite figured out the best way yet. But I'll get there. 

I'm not certain of how much of what I wrote below will be relevant in the future drafts. Only time will tell. 

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So far I have achieved my initial word count goal of 60,000 words but have much more I wish to write. I am putting the existing content through a rather radical restructuring process that involves including structures of text I hadn't originally considered such as relevant quotes made into concrete poetry and guides on how to make some garments from scratch, I've also gone from having a standard chapter structure to having topical sections and subsections. These I will divide with beautiful images of kimono which I will explain and the aforementioned appropriate quotes. 

Originally I was attempting to simply fill the book with everything I knew about kimono. But after doing my surveying, I realised that the book I wanted to make had a much clearer goal, and even an underlying principal which I wanted to focus on. I initially considered naming each section and subsection after the assumptions I wanted to fight. For example, I nearly named one section "Kimono is Irrelevant to Contemporary Life" and a subsection "Kimono is Only for Women". But I felt this was overly negative and placed excessive emphasis on the problem, rather than the solution. So I changed the sections name to "The Kimono Life" and the name of the subsection to "Men's Kimono". I haven't fully formed that chapter yet, but I have it in mind to describe various men's kimono available on the market, to include many pictures of men wearing kimono, and I have a quote and two images from a male kimono wearer here in Melbourne. 

The overall outcome is hopefully going to be a record of the outsider kimono wearer and their mind. This information will hopefully enable kimono artisans and sellers within Japan to improve the international marketing campaigns they have been participating in so that more people will wear kimono. 

But for myself, the book will also be a thinking through of my own world view on contemporary clothing. My feeling for a long time has been that clothing within the Western world remains remarkably homogeneous and Eurocentric despite how heterogeneous immigration and multiculturalism has caused contemporary life to be. I have had a tendency to perceive the contemporary wardrobe as symptomatic of subconscious racial bias. That I am so frequently asked why I wear kimono is a product of the assumption that Western dress is normal, and all other forms of dress are abnormal. To me this has always been worrying. If the native dress of any people group can be understood as the embodiment of their cultural identity, then the exclusion of all non-Western forms of dress from daily life seems to imply that non-Western identities are likewise excluded; acceptable only in those same places where we feel native dress belongs. But I don't think things need to be this way over the long run, and I don't think they will be. People who are critical of cultural appropriation seem to be unaware that the history of all clothing is already intercultural, with few if any forms of dress developing in a vacuum, and usually being the product of many varied influences over time. I hope that my book will make the truly intercultural nature of kimono quite clear so that it will be rightly understood not as a costume, but as a worthy form of dress and possibly a way out of the assumption of Eurocentricity. But then, perhaps upon further research and after having had more conversations with other people, I will ultimately find my own views change. 

As it is, reading the work of Koichi Iwabuchi has provided me with an alternative interpretation of the seeming Westernisation of Asian countries. It may be the case that in adopting Western technology and culture, Asian countries have assimilated Western culture into their own, creating their own iteration of the culture. So, perhaps it isn't the case that the culture of other nations has been diminished by the adoption of Western clothes, rather it might be simply another permutation of their own culture. Somehow, I find I'm not entirely satisfied with this explanation, however, as these nations could have created newer permutations of their own culture along side what they have adopted from the West. But either way, it has been food for thought. 

The long term view is that I will complete a draft that I feel consolidates the final structure to a large extent. Then, I will begin to show chapters to people who are mentioned in the book. I will ask them to critique my depiction of them and I will make sure they understand that I am open to modifying anything they are unhappy with. I still have yet to decide how I want to cover to look, though I did experiment with a black and white image of sumo wrestling referee in full regalia. But, upon showing it to someone else, it became clear fairly quickly that colour would better serve the subject matter. 

I am also developing videos that could serve as augmented reality additions you would access by scanning pages of the book with your phone. I have gotten in touch with a company that has this service, but I have yet to find out the details. 

When I first imagined the book I would write, I imagined a compendium of interviews of kimono related personalities, information about the history of kimono, some notes about contemporary kimono wearing and hypothesis about the future of kimono. So, I started out contacting many different groups and individuals through Facebook. Responses happened, and these I have included in my initial drafts, but then I contacted Sheila Cliffe. At this point, I had only read The Book of Kimono by Yamanaka and Liza Dalby's Kimono: Fashioning A Culture. I rather arrogantly thought that surely a book as wide as Dalby's had to contain virtually all existing information about kimono, so I felt I hardly needed to do any new research. What I learned by discussing my book with Ms. Cliffe was that she was not just a fascinating online personality who puts together exciting kimono outfits despite being an older Caucasian lady and posts them on Facebook. She is a professor and wrote The Social Life of Kimono, which was only published last year, in 2017. I began reading it as part of my research, since multiple people I had contacted referred me to it. What I found to my shock and embarrassment was that Sheila's book was essentially the book I had wanted to write, only she has done it far better than I could have achieved. She began her kimono life and education as a young woman in Japan itself, so she has decades of experience and authoritative connections ahead of what I have. The research she performed, the people she interviewed and the information she shares all dramatically parallel with all that I envisioned.

But, I am far from discouraged from writing my own book, as much of the research she has done, including surveys, parallels the research I wanted to do. I have the opportunity to build my own book upon that research to hypothesise about the meaning of her findings and potential ways of reaching non-kimoned people with kimono. Sheila's book is a must read for anyone with a serious interest in kimono, but I want to write a book for the people who don't have serious interest. I want to do more than document information; I want to use the available information to argue on kimono's behalf; to powerfully argue for the value kimono can add to life today. 

So, the locus of my book has changed, and that would be one of the key reasons I have decided to restructure the text. 

Another differentiation is that Sheila doesn't engage with name parts of the kimono outfit or explaining them. Her book seems to assume a high degree of prior knowledge of kimono, and she might not be able to help that. She has spent decades of her life in the kimono world, so she may not have any recollection of what it is like to be a non-kimono wearing person. But I want to to a more ordinary crowd, more to the person who really has no idea about kimono. The main goal of my book is to encourage readers to see kimono as a diverse and contemporary garment, equal to anything else anyone could wear. 

Since I want it to be clear that there are many Japanese people who really do want non-Japanese people to wear kimono, I want to ensure that I always document two things: The Imagine OneWorld Kimono Project and the video "Can Foreigners Wear Kimono? (Japanese Opinion Interview)". I feel these make it clear that vast amounts of money, time, effort and emotion are invested in the sharing of Japanese culture on the part of Japanese people themselves; that I do what I do partially because I think these efforts are important. (Below is a picture of Yoshimasa Takakura, head of the Imagine One World Kimono Project with women dressed in many of the Olympic kimono.)

(Above is a picture of Sheila Cliffe I have borrowed from her Facebook page. She doesn't always wear kimono this way. I just thought she looked so cool!)

As I have gone on writing, I realise that I bring my own biases to the terminology. I have come to learn that seeing kimono as only traditional or only pre-modern is not true. Yet, when I want to refer to clothing that is non-Western and non-contemporary, I struggle to find better terms. I have grown to love the term "inter-cultural dress" since it implies my objective; the idea that contemporary attire should go from being ethnocentric to being inter-cultural. But then, the objective is not to exclude what I laughingly call the jeans-t-shirt-hoodie uniform of the post-modernist West. The aim is more to open minds to the possibility of other ways of dressing and in turn, to foster better respect and understanding for non-Western culture; to look for ways to incorporate broader multiculturalism in day to day life. 

I find that I have my own prejudice. Sometimes, I want to wear the jeans-t-shirt-hoodie ensemble not because I personally identify with it or find it attractive, but mostly because I feel the urge to fit in; to be "normal" for a day. But I find this impulse within myself very irritating, because it means that deep down, I still think Western culture is normal. It makes me more aware of how hard it is to fight the notion of normality; to change the way people choose to dress. I don't even feel like myself when I dress "normally", yet I still have that urge. For someone who isn't like me and feel like jeans are their culture, the idea of wearing something else in daily life must be almost unbearable. Yet, my task is to convince such people that wearing other things wouldn't be so bad; that it would add to the quality of their own life, and to the lives of others, which I truly believe myself. 

(Below I've included part of one of Sheila Cilffe's "Kimono World" documentaries. It appears that she was hired by NHK to make these. I wanted to show her interview with the makers of Rumi Rock, since this brand is one that seems to be on the forefront of kimono style.) 

 

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