TOKYO — In Japan, the word kimono, which means “thing to wear on the shoulders,” is a central part of national culture. It is a gown that is tied with a sash and has been worn by both men and women for generations.
But as of late, the word is being in another context. Kim Kardashian West announced her latest product on Twitter on Tuesday: a new line of slimming undergarments called Kimono Solutionwear.
The product isn’t yet available to buy, but the backlash is already here.
Some Japanese people expressed their displeasure with the reality star’s use of the word kimono to sell her latest product. They accused her of appropriating an item — and an idea — central to Japanese culture in an attempt at cute wordplay and consumerism.
The product, which does not resemble a kimono, is shapewear for women in nine different shades and an array of sizes that is intended to help women feel more confident.
“Finally I can share with you guys this project that I have been developing for the last year. I’ve been passionate about this for 15 years. Kimono is my take on shapewear and solutions for women that actually work,” she wrote.
In Japan, the word kimono, which means “thing to wear on the shoulders,” is a central part of national culture. It is a gown that is tied with a sash and has been worn by both men and women for generations.
On social media, angry users accused the reality star of disrespecting Japanese culture and stealing the name of their traditional dress.
“This is blasphemy against Japanese culture. Can’t someone from kimono-related organizations protest? This is terrible,” tweeted Masahito Sato, an editor and writer.
Many used the hashtag #KimOhNo to express their disgust and disappointment.
“Kim, I’m sure your shapewear’s nice, but please don’t take the name of a beautiful, traditional Japanese wardrobe and use it for your undies. This is me in various kimonos over the years. Hairstyle may not be traditional, but my kimonos sure were!: kimono: #KimOhNo,” one user wrote.
Kardashian West calls her new brand “a solution focused approach to shape enhancing underwear.” According to the BBC, she trademarked the Kimono brand last year in the United States and has also filed trademarks for “Kimono Body,” “Kimono Intimates” and “Kimono World.”
Yoshifumi Nakazaki, deputy director general of the Japan Kimono League, said the kimono was a “common asset” for all Japanese people.
“It’s not just kimono as clothes but kimono as a name that is the common asset, not just for those of us who live in the modern era but for the history of Japanese people that has been accumulated over the years,” he said in an interview. “Generally speaking, it is unthinkable for a Japanese person to register kimono for a trademark. That would be impossible."
Sarah Owie, another writer, said she was sad to see Japanese culture “threatened” and that Kardashian West had gone “OVER LIMIT.”
This is not the first time the Kardashian sister has been accused of cultural insensitivity. In 2017, she was accused of wearing blackface during the launch of her KKW Beauty range. A photo posted to social media at the time showed an extremely tanned-looking Kardashian West promoting her new Contour and Highlight Kit.
“I would obviously never want to offend anyone,” she later told the New York Times. “I used an amazing photographer and a team of people. I was really tan when we shot the images, and it might be that the contrast was off.”