For Fun, Attention or Quiet Self-Identity : National Heritage Dress

One thing for certain, travelling in big cities of Japan and South Korea, you can rent a national dress and parade around in it for a few hours.  It’s around 30 – 45 Canadian dollars.  We never saw this money-making practice when we were in Germany, France, Denmark, Czech Republic nor Barcelona, Spain.  Maybe there’s something for tourists during the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.

Kimono rental. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Two Japanese nationals. Kimono attired woman may have been going somewhere for an event or job. Downtown Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong

As a Chinese-Canadian, during our trip, I didn’t spent much time trying to figure out where an Asian-descent person came from, unless they were a local working and speaking in Japanese.  Or the person spoke in their native tongue.  While it’s easy for me to distinguish Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Tagalog of the Filipinos, my ear still hasn’t attuned to figuring out Japanese nor Korean languages from afar.  I haven’t heard what Cambodian nor Thai languages sound to the ear.

I was curious — to see if ethnicity or their spoken language  matched with a national heritage garment they wore.

Tourists in rented hanbok -traditional Korean woman’s full dress. Seoul, South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong.
Seoul, South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Having Fun – Some  Asians Being Another Asian
It was intriguing to me, to see some Filipino women tripping along in a  kimono in Japan or in the Korean billowy hanbok, a high waisted full skirted dress.  They seemed to enjoy themselves in the make-believe Korean woman image.  I wondered:  maybe some  folks don’t get to wear costumes of choice, for an annual event, like Hallowe’en in North America.

Another kimono rental shop –lots of choice. Historic Gion district. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

We did pass by the odd dress rental shop here and there in Tokyo, Kyoto and Seoul. I saw some tourist women strolling in 28-30 degree C  humid weather in such dresses.  Or another day wielding an umbrella to protect their rental

Gion historic district. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

garments in rain.  There were the occasional working Japanese local woman we saw, who was not a geisha and walking a few blocks in a kimono either for an event or for their job role.

Ceremonial dress of national guard. Gyeongbokgung Palace. Seoul, South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Ironic Ethnic Self-Consciousness – Even a Garment Can’t Hide
I had no interest to spend money to try on a national dress in either country. In my heart, it didn’t seem a comfortable place, as someone whose family heritage is Chinese.

Besides back in Canada, I have 2 tops where both styles are Chinese-inspired. One of them, a lovely top I bought from Toronto’s Chinatown over 15 years ago.  It’s well-tailored and even lined inside for fit.  I still haven’t even worn

Summer office top 2018.
Top not yet worn out in public. Contemporary fusion 2018.

this eye-catching top anywhere yet. (Except for the Internet here.)  Self-consciousness creeps into me:  to wear this smart black linen top with brilliant red floral  and swirling dragon scale edging  seems the stamp of Chineseness all over me.

Bamboo grove. Arashiyama, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Ironic I fuss over a garment, when I can’t change my genes that people see, even if I dyed my hair blonde. Ah well. One day maybe just slip it on and amble into the bright sunshine.

Mother in cheongsam in Canada with self, the first baby.

Top banner / side left featured photo at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Seoul South, Korea 2018.

27 Comments Add yours

  1. Your mother is a beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Ah youth makes all of us look so good…. she had 5 children after me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So funny. You and me and another blogger I follow are all posting about Japan at the same time, having all three of us been there recently. She just published about this very topic and I’m about to! I asked quite a few kimono-wearing people in Kyoto where they were from. the most frequent answers were Korea, China and Taiwan.
    I think you should totally own your Chineseness and wear that gorgeous black and red top! It’s beautiful.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I keep putting it off when I’ll wear it… I just have to make sure I can fit it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I noticed the Kimono rental also in Japan. Korea is still on our to-do list but we will manage it at some point. Thus far I only know about Korea and Japan having those traditional clothing rental stuff. Sure there must be also something like that in China but thus far I havent seen it. And of course I have never seen this in any European country I have visited

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I have this gut feeling a lot of European locals have become more cosmopolitan in their dress wear and most totally have lost interest in heritage wear in general, unless they participate as hosts in some sort of local cultural festival.

      You and wifey would enjoy South Korea..they do try harder to preserve their architectural heritage, yet they have worked very hard to advance technologically and in business. Very impressive. I felt generally I could buy stuff without feeling ripped off. South Korea is different with its recent influence of Christianity..which is evident in the immigrant Korean communities in North America, as 1 of several ways of community bonding. I think this is what helps some survive mentally some of the recent historic war stuff in past involving Japanese and North Korea. (which latter is still not over because of NK’s human rights violations via violence).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d say in Germany much of the traditional thinking “vanished” after WWII. However traditional dresses etc are still more or less common in the countryside.
        In other European countrys it is similar, at least what I have experienced. No traditional wear except in some tourist destinations and then you may find them only in the countryside.

        I believe that the Unification Church in Korea contributed a lot of raising the awarness of Christianity. For me it is still strange when I realised that China has so many Christians (ofc state controlled). My mother-in-law in Catholic and she also forced my wife as a child to become one. Even though I had plans to study theology I kind of lost all interest in it after being involved too much. For me Religion is something I do no longer want to be involved with, too often it is used to justify terrible crimes and the like.
        Anyhow even though my mother-in-law is so religious it is always stunning (not the right word here but I can not think of any other right now) how less she actually knows about the bible or about Christianity itself.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          Yes, well what can religion be in China be if it’s state-controlled. There is no indication in some of your blog posts I’ve read that your MIL is Christian/Catholic. Wouldn’t have guessed at all. Though one may no longer be a believer, at least one can understand Christianity’s powerful influence over the centuries on European culture.

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          1. Now that you mentioned it I really think that I never had anything about the religious believe of my mother in law. Now I haven’t checked it as I am writing on my phone but I think I mentioned my wife’s religion in my article about our wedding in Finland. Will try to check it tomorrow and link it here again in a reply

            Like

  4. Marta says:

    I also saw a lot of tourists wearing rental kimonos in Kyoto! I wonder if anyone accused them of cultural appropriation, which seems to be something that happens frequently lately.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Well, I didn’t quite see it that way while I was there, since the locals running these kimono rental shops want to make money. Pure capitalism and to heck with cultural appropriation.

      Hope you and little one are doing well. 🙂

      Like

  5. This is interesting. I would not feel comfortable wearing clothes that are distinctively linked to a particuliar ethnicity. Writing these words make me realize that I became a true resident of the United States 🙂
    Here, there is such a debate about authenticity that people are very cautious about not trespassing such boundaries. Recently I saw a young French singer wearing a kimono and also some make up that clearly was intended to give her a Japanese physical look. My immediate reaction was shock. But no one on the TV set told her anything about it and it seemed totally okay. I wondered then who was right.
    Reading your post I feel the same way.
    I wouldn’t feel strange to see someone wearing a beret, clearly a cliche to depict French people, away from France. But a kimono or a sari or still a traditional African outfit would not be something I would wear as a Caucasian.
    Curious to see what others think on the topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      There are modern kimino-more cape-like/shawl wool and sheer chiffon interpretations these days that have been a recent fashion craze. I can’t wear something like that since I’m small and short. Looks great on a tall, leggy person. Not sure about that French singer who had to wear makeup to give herself a Japanese facial look. The kimono alone, would have been ok if she wore it gracefully and respectfully.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I looked her up and she even took a Japanese name For the stage. She’s Hoshi. She’s very well known and even famous in France. She’s 22. She says that she loves the Japanese culture and the manga books. Which explains her name and look. I must add that she uses the Japanese look more or less, depending I suppose of her songs and moods. I’m ambivalent in this kind of behavior. Back to your modern kimonos they look stylish!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          When she gets older, being um…another race, is not going to look good on her..

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Lani says:

    I believe for Oktoberfest you can rent traditional outfits, or if you can’t, then there’s a lot of people playing dress up on their own. 🙂

    Those Medieval fairs also attract many people wearing traditional costumes. And if other countries did rent out traditional outfits, I would imagine they would do well. Folks love to dress up!

    In Asia, wearing traditional clothing is popular. Many places have photography shops set up for wedding photos, glamour shots, etc. I believe in China you can really get the full range of costumes. I’ve seen some pretty good ones. I suppose it’s all about fantasy and fun.

    Perhaps one day I’ll play dress up myself 🙂

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Presumably your observations are true for Thailand, Cambodia, etc. where you’ve lived. My partner didn’t see any shops in Shanghai in the Bund district where he was a few days after our Japan and Seoul trip. (I had to return to Canada to work.) As you know, for even Canadian/American born Chinese, sometimes the woman may choose to have a cheongsam as a wedding going away dress after changing from Western wedding gown.

      I dimly recall wearing a basic cotton kimono when I was an older teen at a high school dance. The evening theme in gymn was Cherry Blossoms… some of us made tissue paper flowers on branches to decorate the gym.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your post was so interesting! I think it would be fun to experience an Asian city in traditional dress. Especially if you planned a day around traditional cultural activities. A new perspective! I’m based in the American South. I could just see the antebellum hoop skirt trend hitting the streets here. I wore such attire for a community fundraiser once and my hoop skirt was so big it didn’t even fit in the car! It was definitely an experience:)

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Methinks someone should start up a biz, in a major Deep South city just for that….hooped skirt dresses, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! Maybe we’ll see one pop up soon!

        Like

  8. That fabulous fusion fashion top. It’s not a ball gown, it’s a top. Wear it to the shops. On the bicycle. At home. Make it a normal garment until you can say to a compliment “oh this old thing? Thank you, I love it too.” (I had to lecture myself about this once but now I’ve got the message. Don’t wait until you’re 78!)

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Well, for certain I can’t imagine sweating up the top while cycling. I actually wear cycling wear when I bike to work and change into office wear. I don’t like sweating/damaging clothing ….that’s taken me awhile to find and to have it fit me. But interesting about how to “normalize” the top. 🙂

      Like

  9. Fascinating! I had no idea one could play “dress up” in Japan and Korea! Must admit, I’d have been sorely tempted to rent a Korean National Guard outfit. I’d cut quite a dashing figure wearing it– especially riding my bicycle! Great post, Jean. Loved the baby picture, and be sure to wear that fancy top sometime this summer– a big sister should set a daring example for her siblings!! 😊

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      🙂 You would become a semi tourist security officer at the palace gates.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sue Slaght says:

    I saw this rental practice in Tokyo and to be honest found it quite puzzling. A very interesting post Jean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Well, we have Hallowe’en…or the annual Comic Expo in Calgary where fans love to dress up in their favourite comic character or similar.

      Liked by 1 person

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