Monday, July 27, 2015

List of Kimono Wednesdays protest issues, concepts, and related history

Please see my original post for background: Monet's La Japonaise Kimono Wednesdays at the MFA.

People keep asking me to explain what precisely the protest is about and I've given up. After talking with some folks this weekend about the protesters' concerns I decided to compile a list of everything they’ve mentioned in their materials and signs and provide links to Wikipedia and other sources for further education. Some issues that are related are grouped together. I have located some Japanese sources, but please note that the Japanese links may not be as helpful as the English links because they may not provide context on these concepts from an American perspective. The list ended up being longer than I expected so I alphabetized it for easier reference. Yes, I used to read encyclopedias for fun as a child. Wikipedia is pretty much a childhood dream come true. ^_^ Happy reading!

  1. AAPI underrepresentation in media and culture
  2. Ableism障害者差別
  3. Asian American (nisei Yuji Ichioka is credited with coining the term
  4. Asian festishism | アジア人フェチ
  5. Black Lives Matter | 日本語
  6. Classism
  7. Colonialism | 植民地主義 / Postcolonialism | ポストコロニアル理論 / (See also Colonial mentality)
  8. Complicity
  9. Critical art theory
  10. Critical gender theory
  11. Critical race theory
  12. Cultural appropriation
  13. Cultural insensitivity
  14. Decolonize Our Museums
  15. Dehumanization of women
  16. Erasure of Japanese narrative
  17. European feminine beauty ideal (see also Eurocentric Beauty Ideals as a Form of Structural Violence: Origins and Effects on East Asian Women)
  18. Exoticismエキゾチシズム
  19. Feminine女らしさ
  20. Genderqueer | ジェンダークィア
  21. Hibakusha | 被爆者
  22. Hiroshima & Nagasaki atomic bombings | 日本への原子爆弾投下
  23. Historic discrimination against AAPI (see also Racial inequality in the United States)
  24. Homophobiaホモフォビア / Transphobiaトランスフォビア 
  25. Human zoos | 人間動物園 
  26. Hyphenated Americans
  27. Indigenous rights movements
  28. Intersectionality (Update 2/14/16: I don't remember if I saw this word used in the initial Kimono Wednesdays discussions but I introduced a friend to this term and they found it helpful in understanding the protest.)  
  29. Ivory tower
  30. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzō Abe | 安倍晋三
  31. Japanese American internment camps (I prefer the term incarceration camps per Densho’s terminology convention) | 日系人の強制収容
  32. Japanese denial of war crimes | 日本の戦争犯罪
  33. Japonisme | ジャポニスム
  34. June 24, 2015 Tokyo protest | 日本語 
  35. Kanagawa Treaty | 日米和親条約 / Commodore Perry | マシュー・ペリー
  36. Kimono | 着物
  37. Lived experience
  38. Mark Wahlberg beating of two Vietnamese men | 日本語
  39. Minstrelsy
  40. Misogyny | ミソジニー
  41. Model minority myth (see the 1966 New York Times article where the myth originated)
  42. Murder of AAPI women
  43. Museum studies | 博物館学 / Asian underrepresentation in museum workforce / Lack of diversity at the MFA 
  44. Orientalism | オリエンタリズム
  45. Otherness | 他者性
  46. Patriarchy | 家父長制
  47. Pearl Harbor | 真珠湾攻撃
  48. People of color 
  49. Pillaging of artifacts | 略奪芸術 / Provenance disputes at the MFA
  50. QTWOC (Queer Trans Women of Color) - as far as I can tell this is primarily used as a Twitter and Tumblr hashtag
  51. Racism | (アメリカ合衆国の人種差別)
  52. Remilitarization of Japan  (see also The Japan Times opinion piece ) | 日本国憲法第9条
  53. Respectability politics
  54. Reverse racism (article provided by protesters)
  55. Sexism性差別
  56. Sexual assault | 女性に対する性的虐待 / Sexual harassment | セクシャルハラスメント / Rape (AAPI under-reporting of rape) | 強姦
  57. Slavery | 奴隷制
  58. Solidarity
  59. Stalkingストーカー
  60. State-sanctioned violence against people of color米国警察の異常な暴力
  61. Sureshbhai Patel police brutality incident | スレシュバイ・パテル
  62. Systemic violence and brutality against people of color
  63. Tokyo firebombings | 東京大空襲
  64. US Women's World Cup win over Japan Twitter celebration | 日本語
  65. US military presence in Japan | 日本国とアメリカ合衆国との間の相互協力及び安全保障条約
  66. Vietnam War | ベトナム戦争
  67. Vincent Chin | ビンセント・チン
  68. Violence against black & brown bodies
  69. Western imperialism | 帝国主義
  70. White allyship
  71. White culture
  72. White fragility
  73. White institutional racism 
  74. White male gaze
  75. White privilege
  76. White supremacy / white supremacist murders
  77. Whitewashed Japanese textbooks歴史教科書問題
  78. Women | 女性
  79. Yellowface / AAPI misrepresentation in film and television - Fu Manchu, exoticized sex worker, Mr. Yunioshi

If you can provide Japanese terminology for things I wasn't able to figure out, please leave a comment. If you can find a Wikipedia or other well-written source that would be great too. Thanks.

If I've missed anything, please let me know!

This post was made possible in part by Google Chrome and Google Translate! どうもありがとうございました!

  • 8/2/15 1:05am: Updated to include issues from these signs. Added ableism, classism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism.
  • 8/4/15 6:10pm: Added Asian American and people of color.
  • 2/16/16: Added intersectionality.

Related posts

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Center for Art Law and NCAC critical of the MFA's decision to modify Kimono Wednesdays

I've been adding interesting commentary to my original post and some follow-up posts but I felt this required a separate post.

The protesters have been accused of wanting to censor art because their actions resulted in a significant modification to the presentation of Kimono Wednesdays which denied museumgoers the opportunity to try on the replica uchikake. The protesters have said it is not their intention to ban art but to promote dialogue and education, but at times their actions – which included celebrating that the MFA had agreed to change their programming – have seemed to be at cross-purposes to their stated goals. Ultimately the MFA is responsible for their response and while some people hold the protesters primarily responsible because they feel they backed the MFA into a corner, some have been more vocal in criticizing the MFA's actions.

Last Friday, The Center for Art Law published an editorial by their Founder and Director, Irina Tarsis, an art historian and attorney, which opened with this very blunt statement: "Self-censorship by museums is a dangerous trend." She characterizes the "public outcry" against Kimono Wednesdays as, "but another instance where public outrage is misplaced as more important issues remain overlooked." Ms. Tarsis is critical of the MFA's disinclination to carry on with Kimono Wednesdays as they were originally structured and feels they should have used the controversy, "to tackle the misconceptions surrounding the idea of cultural appropriation." She goes on to detail the ways in which artists all over the the world have long been borrowing from one another:

"The decision to scrap the benign kimono project is disturbing because museums are meant to be educational forums where different manifestations of creativity and creative types inform the public about the past and safeguard it for the future. It is universally accepted that artists frequently explore and borrow ideas and iconography from different cultures and other artists. Just as Eastern Art experimented with “Western” conventions of painting landscapes to show perspective and integrated Western dress into portraiture, artifacts of Asian, African, South American art and culture, including fans, kimonos, masks, patterns, ceramics, etc. were and continue being frequently incorporated themes in Western artworks, with varying success."

On the same day, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) published a letter they sent to the MFA signed by a Japanese artist and arts activist, Kentaro Ikegami, their Arts Advocacy Program Manager. It's worth a read (see below).

Mr. Ikegami feels that the MFA missed an opportunity to, "discuss the history of cultural appropriation with its public, and to create a deeper awareness of the historico-political context in which art is created and seen." He worries that they have left themselves, "vulnerable to future demands to cancel programming." Further, "by acceding to the demands of protesters and canceling the program, the museum has privileged their voice over any others who may see it in a different way." Mr. Ikegami refers the MFA to NCAC's Museum Best Practices for Managing Controversy. They produced the document in response to the 2011 controversy surrounding the censorship of The National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture which had one piece that was seen by some as being anti-Catholic.

NCAC along with The Vera List Center for Art and Politics, "convened a group of arts professionals, consultants, and First Amendment lawyers for a closed policy session," the goal of which was, "to brainstorm on ways to become pro-active on issues of artistic and curatorial freedom and to reverse a cycle of politically motivated accusations and censorship still assaulting many art institutions." The document is endorsed by several national organizations that support museums and museum professionals including The Association of Art Museum Curators, The American Alliance of Museums, and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.

The best practices consist of three strategies that museums can employ when faced with controversy:
  1. Public Statement Affirming Commitment to Artistic and Intellectual Freedom of Speech (“Freedom of Speech Commitment”);
  2. Preparation in Advance of Upcoming Programs and Potential Controversy, through agreement on clear curatorial procedures, feedback mechanisms, and educational plans;
  3. Procedures for Addressing the Press or Complaints from the Public after an Exhibition or Special Program Opens.
This item in the third section under, "Handling Complaints from the Community," stood out to me:
Evaluate the complaint(s): Who is complaining? What are their credentials? Is the complaint sincere criticism or an act of political opportunism by a group leveraging controversy to serve other goals?
Many critics of the protest have felt that they were using Kimono Wednesdays to further their own agenda on issues that had nothing to do with art, Impressionism, Japan, or kimonos. Various writers struggled to follow the logic of the protest (see: Hyperallergic上り口説 Nubui Kuduchi, and Ready, Set, Kimono!). Observers have been angered and saddened that a small group of protesters managed to influence the MFA to such a degree that all members of the public of any race or national origin have been denied a once in a lifetime opportunity to try on a replica of a 140-year-old theatrical kimono. If the MFA had been following NCAC's best practices, much of the turmoil could have been avoided and we would actually have the dialogue and education that the protesters have called for. I hope that going forward the MFA will adopt NCAC's best practices.

I contacted NCAC yesterday to find out if the MFA has taken them up on their offer to discuss this further but have not heard back.

Update 8/2/15: I just noticed that NCAC posted a response from the MFA a few days ago.

Update 9/8/15: I just saw that NCAC posted another follow-up at the end of July: Kimonos and Controversy: What the Boston MFA Got Wrong

Click here for a full page view of NCAC's letter.

Related posts

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Myths and facts about Kimono Wednesdays and the protests

11/3/15: Please note that the information on this page may not be fully accurate. Much of it was written after I had attended only one protest. I have tried to add updates when I learned more but I may have missed something. For a look at the protests after they were over, please see Part 1: Kimono Wednesdays protest postmortem: media, public, critics

I have been frustrated by all the misinformation (or lack of information) about Kimono Wednesdays and the protests in both the media and on social media, so I put together this handy guide for anyone who has questions or whose friends are spreading incorrect information. I really encourage anyone who wants to know what the debate is about to read my original post but I understand it's very long. My answers on this page are brief. If you want more detail, please see my previous posts which are listed at the bottom of this post. You can also review the protest materials on their Tumblr and Facebook pages.

I apologize to Japanese readers that I am not able to translate these posts into Japanese. I am illiterate. ごめんなさい。(with help from Google Translate!)

La Japonaise replica uchikake

Kimono Wednesdays

Fiction: Kimono Wednesdays have been cancelled due to the protest.

Reality: The MFA modified the event known as Kimono Wednesday which used to allow museumgoers the opportunity to try on the La Japonaise replica uchikake. In response to "concerns from some members of our community" visitors may no longer try on the uchikake, but there are still Spotlight Talks (15 minute talks) and museumgoers may touch and photograph the uchikake. Time Out Tokyo reported that the MFA "pulled Kimono Wednesdays off their calendar" but I'm not sure it was ever listed as such on their calendar. The Spotlight Talks are still on the calendar as "Claude Monet: La Japonaise" but the description doesn't mention that the uchikake will be on display. The protesters have demanded that Kimono Wednesday be closed altogether but the MFA has given no indication that they will give in to this demand.

Fiction: Kimono Wednesdays is an event conceived of by white MFA staff.

Reality: I have not been able to get the full story behind the idea of events like Kimono Wednesdays, but we do know that the idea for this type of event – where museumgoers get to try on the replica uchikake – originated in Japan. I do not know if it was conceived of by NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, or the museums where La Japonaise was exhibited as part of the Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan traveling exhibit. We do not know the ethnicity of all of the MFA staff who worked on Kimono Wednesdays. The protesters have implied that the MFA had a choice in which painting to use for these events and must have chosen this one because of their white bias but that is not the case. The event came about because NHK contacted the MFA asking to create replica uchikake specifically for La Japonaise's tour.

Fiction: Kimono Wednesdays were happening in the context of the exhibit Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan.

Reality: Uchikake try on events similar to Kimono Wednesdays were staged in Japan in the context of Looking East. Looking East was never displayed at the MFA. The exhibit was at The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in Quebec City, Canada during Kimono Wednesdays. The context at the MFA was to celebrate the return of La Japonaise following its restoration and tour of Japan and as part of farewell events for outgoing MFA director Malcolm Rogers called Cheers to Malcolm!. 11/3/15: This claim was made in the New Statesman and I pointed out the error on Twitter and via email but it has not been corrected.

Claim: Kimono Wednesdays were happening in the context of the Hokusai exhibit.

My Thoughts: Kimono Wednesdays were held in the Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery (Gallery 255 on the second floor in Art of Europe wing) which displays part of the MFA's collection of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in France. The Hokusai exhibit was three floors away in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery (Gallery LG31), where special exhibitions are displayed. While they were happening at the same time I don't think it's fair to say that the Hokusai exhibit was the backdrop for Kimono Wednesdays. It would be entirely possibly to leave the MFA without seeing the Hokusai exhibit (the museum is vast), though that would be the visitor's choice as there was no way to miss that it was happening. There were signs for the exhibit all over the place, including banners hung at the main entrance.

Claim: The MFA appropriated Japanese kimonos to be props in their La Japonaise Spotlight Talks.

My Thoughts: The uchikake were commissioned by NHK with the MFA's permission and subsequently donated to the MFA for the purpose of allowing MFA visitors to have the same experience that Japanese museumgoers had of trying on the uchikake and taking a photo in front of La Japonaise. The MFA may also use the uchikake in the future in whatever way they would like to use them. NHK made no stipulations in the giving of the gift. Since the uchikake were a gift and the event put on was essentially the same as those in Japan, I do not feel this meets the definition of appropriation. Additionally, I don't agree with the protesters' characterization of the "Orientalist underpinnings of its commission." However, not everyone agrees that this was not an example of cultural appropriation, even some Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Claim: The MFA is not providing education on the context of La Japonaise or about the uchikake.
My Thoughts: Kimono Wednesday has been running since June 24, 2015. I did not attend until July 15th. The protesters have stated that in previous weeks little to no education was provided to the public. I was told by Timothy Nagaoka, the counterprotest organizer, that the July 15th talk was better than the previous week's talk. Since I haven't been there every week I can't speak to what level of education has been provided and how that has changed week to week. The talks are only 15 minutes long so you can't teach much in 15 minutes. Update 2/18/16: I have since spoken to two people who attended the very first Kimono Wednesdays in June 24, 2015. There was a Spotlight Talk that night and a Japanese American I spoke to thought the context provided was fine.

Myth: Kimono Wednesdays was sponsored by NHK/the Japanese government as part of their Cool Japan efforts.
Reality: Although the replica uchikake were provided by the NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, neither NHK nor the Japanese government officially sponsored or worked on Kimono Wednesdays. The event was worked on only by MFA staff and volunteers.

Myth: The replica uchikake were made by kimono artisans in Japan for the express purpose of allowing Americans to experience kimono support the declining kimono industry.
Reality: The replicas were commissioned by NHK for a Japanese audience. They were designed and produced by the costume section of Takarazuka, a stage management company. The only reason they made it to the US is because the MFA requested they be donated after seeing the success of similar events at the three Japanese museums where Looking East and La Japonaise were exhibited. I do not know if NHK agreed to the donation because they believed it would help the kimono industry.

The Protesters

Fiction: All of the protesters are non-Japanese Asian Americans.

Reality: They have at least one Japanese American protester (see 9/1 update below - there was more than one). There may be more but I did not take a census on Wednesday. They appeared to have about six white allies. There are a wider range of people supporting them on Facebook including Japanese and Japanese Americans. (Update 11/3/15: Although I spoke with many Japanese and Japanese Americans who were upset that the protest leadership did not include any people of Japanese heritage I should note that not all Japanese Americans had a problem with this. Sansei Professors Paul Watanabe and Elena Creef had no problem with the protest being led by non-Japanese Asian Americans and nisei artist Akiko Ichikawa thanked two of the leaders of Decolonize Our Museums when they were all on the Hyperallergic ArtTalk panel in October. Decolonize Our Museums was invited after demanding to be included.)

Fiction: All of the protesters are Japanese American.

Reality: Some media outlets are peddling this fiction (like the National Review: "Almost immediately Japanese-American activists raised a ruckus..." screenshot). None of the protest organizers are Japanese American. None of the protesters who have given media interviews have been Japanese American. As stated below they have some Japanese American support but it would not be accurate to say that the protest is the work of "Japanese-American activists." I have emailed the National Review asking them to correct the story. (7/23/15: The National Review emailed me to let me know they corrected the story.)

Fiction: There is a fake Japanese/Japanese American protester.

Reality: This is something going around on social media. It is not true. Please stop saying this. The protesters have one Japanese American protester that I'm aware of who has identified herself as "Japanese" on signs. (9/1/15: I have been informed that there was more than one Japanese American protester.) She can speak Japanese and I accept that she is Japanese American. (I can confirm that she speaks Japanese because two of my friends spoke with her in Japanese and English.) I do think it's unfair for her to represent herself as Japanese because being Japanese and Japanese American are two very different identities and telling the world you are Japanese gives a very different impression of who is protesting. However, she is ethnically Japanese so I wish people would stop questioning her heritage by saying things like if she can't speak Japanese she's not Japanese. I can barely speak Japanese but I identify as both Japanese and American. There are some ways in which my habits and mindset are distinctly Japanese and other areas in which my habits and mindset are very American. Asian American identities are often very complex. I wrote in more depth about having a dual identity here.

Fiction: The protesters have no Japanese support.

Reality: I have seen comments in support of the protesters from around three people identifying themselves as Japanese. I have looked some of them up and found them on LinkedIn so I believe they are real Japanese people. It seems that the overwhelming majority of Japanese nationals do not support the protest, but it is not correct to say they have no Japanese support. They have some Japanese support, though they have not stated how much. They have said that when they have communicated with people in Japan privately to explain the protest, people tend to agree.

Claim: The protesters are claiming to speak for all Japanese/Japanese Americans/Asian Americans.

My Thoughts: The media has not helped with this. Several articles I read implied that the protesters were speaking for all Asian Americans and I don't feel that the protesters have done a good job of proactively clarifying that their views do not represent the views of all Japanese people, Japanese Americans, or Asian Americans. Some read their materials as appearing to speak on behalf of Japanese Americans. The five signatories to their "LIST OF DEMANDS AND CHARGES" do not appear to be Japanese American and many (but not all) Japanese Americans are offended by the presumption they took when they purported to speak for us. However, they do state in their FAQ that it is not their intention to speak for all Asian Americans.

Claim: The protesters are anti-Japanese.

My Thoughts: I have not seen any explicitly anti-Japanese statements from the protesters. I do not believe the protest is anti-Japanese, though I have no idea if any of them personally hold anti-Japanese views because of their family histories. Update 7/23/15 4:30pm: One of my JA friends pointed out that one of the protest signs from last night could be viewed as anti-Japanese or anti-Abe (Japan's current Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe). I will note that this sign was carried by a JA protester, not a non-Japanese Asian American. The sign mischaracterizes the June 24th protest in Japan which according to Al Jazeera America was only about some recently passed bills that some feel are an unconstitutional expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The other issues on the sign are criticism that Prime Minister Abe has received since entering office. When Americans who live at home and abroad are critical of the US government that doesn't necessarily mean they are anti-American. Sometimes it means they're against a particular politician or a particular political party. I don't personally read this sign as necessarily anti-Japanese but I don't know what the protester's intent was.

Claim: The protesters are agitators working for a foreign government.

My Thoughts: As I have said before, although I have no proof that they are not, I don't believe this is true. My impression of the protesters is that they are regular Asian Americans struggling with issues of race in a country that is frequently hostile for non-whites. I think these suggestions have been made by people who do not understand the complexities of Asian American identity and life and therefore cannot understand why a non-Japanese Asian American person feels like a kimono event relates to their history. This is a complicated topic that would require its own post but you can read the Wikipedia entry on Asian America for some background. It is not uncommon for white people to assume that Asian Americans are agents of a foreign government and cannot be trusted because we are not Real Americans, although in this case I am also seeing this charge from Japanese people. Some people may think it's funny to joke about it, but it's not. This is a racist assertion. This kind of thinking is what got 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans rounded up and incarcerated during WWII.

Claim: The protesters think it is racist for all white people to wear kimono at any time.

My Thoughts: The protesters have said they think it's okay for white people to wear kimono that they purchased or received as a gift. They have a problem with the way Kimono Wednesdays were/are structured and marketed and have protested with signs that make it appear they think any white person who tries on the uchikake is racist for doing so, however I am not clear on whether or not that was the statement they were trying to make. They have said that the protest is primarily directed at the MFA, but at times it has seemed like the protest is also directed at white museumgoers.
Please see sansei Japanese American author, Jan Morrill's, blog for more commentary on this.

Claim: The protesters are anti-white and engaging in reverse racism.

My Thoughts: The protesters have said reverse racism doesn't exist due to the white power structure. On Facebook they have used racial slurs against white people, made discriminatory and hateful statements, and generally discounted everything white people have said (even those with Japanese spouses and children) because they are white. However, they obviously have white friends and supporters so clearly they don't behave this way towards all white people. I encourage you to read their Tumblr and Facebook pages and draw your own conclusions. (I should note that there have also been slurs, ugly language, trolling, and harassment from some of their critics both white and Japanese.)

Fiction: The protesters are for racial segregation.
Reality: The protesters have never said this.

Claim: The protesters want to ban art.

My Thoughts: They have never said this, though as I said above, they have demanded that Kimono Wednesdays close completely. The protesters have said they are for better education, though the demand to stop Kimono Wednesdays (see item 2 on their LIST OF DEMANDS AND CHARGES) seems contradictory to this. Japanese and many Japanese Americans firmly believe that the way to educate people about our culture is through sharing things like our beautiful kimonos. This cannot be accomplished if an event like Kimono Wednesdays if forced to close because some people think it doesn't provide a deep enough history lesson on colonialism, Western imperialism, orientalism, the Kanagawa Treaty and how that relates to racism faced by people of color in the US today. I don't believe that most Japanese and Japanese Americans would want that lesson to be what accompanies an event that is aimed at art appreciation of a French painting and a replica of a theatrical kimono.

Claim: The protesters are aggressive.

Reality: I think this depends on how you define aggressive. I have only been present at one of their four (to date) protests. I did not witness any behavior there that I would call aggressive though I did hear several heated exchanges. The only aggressive behavior I have seen was in a video on their now deleted Facebook page in which they had surrounded Timothy Nagaoka on the day he was counterprotesting alone and videoed the "conversation" (I wrote about it here). It looked more like a confrontation to me but Timothy told me he wasn't that bothered by it. I guess as a teacher he's used to dealing with disagreements. On the other hand I spoke to two counterprotesters who said the majority of protesters had been rude and disrespectful when engaging with them on July 15th which was a marked change from the conversations they had with the protesters on June 24th. The museum staff I spoke with said the protesters' behavior was fine on July 15th and better than they had on July 8th, but they didn't go into detail about the protesters' behavior on that or any other date. (Update 11/3/15: Forgot to update this with a link to a later aggressive incident I witnessed.)

Fiction: The protest is illegal.

Reality: Actually, the protest is legal. It is permitted under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which guarantees Americans the right to freedom of speech even if other people don't like their ideas. The First Amendment also guarantees the right to peaceably assemble, although this right does not always apply on private property. The MFA is private property, but staff told me they have decided to allow the protesters to be present in the gallery because the protest started off very small. Larger protests are not permitted in the building or on MFA property and must remain on the sidewalk which is city property and therefore a public place where they may legally assemble. Via the ACLU: "As a rule, the First Amendment doesn't give you the right to engage in free-speech activities on private property unless... the owner has given you permission to use the property for speech."

Fiction: The protesters are committing a "hate crime."

Reality: In order to commit a hate crime, you must commit a crime. As I said above, the protest is not illegal. If you would like to learn more about hate crimes which are a very serious problem that people of color face in the United States, please see the FBI's overview of what a hate crime is.

Claim: The protest is ridiculous. There are more important problems in the US/world that we should be talking about.

My thoughts: The protesters have responded to this in their FAQ:
"g. Putting on a kimono is not real racism. There are more important problems.
White supremacy is a major problem in the world. This kind of programming fuels and propagates it."

I've been discussing what's going on at the MFA with a West Coast Japanese American friend who has worked abroad for the Peace Corps and World Vision in some very harrowing conditions. This is an abridged version of what he said to me:
"People all over the world are dying from lack of food and access to clean drinking water. They don't have the luxury of visiting an air conditioned art museum to view fine art by Monet or to touch a real uchikake modeled on the one in the painting. Only by seeing how much of the world struggles day-to-day can one fully appreciate life in America."
I think this is a perspective shared by many people. Which isn't to say that Asian Americans don't have problems. We have problems, some of us more so than others. Japanese Americans, for whom the model minority myth was created, who as a group have a nearly 150 year history in the US, are in a much more stable position than other Asian Americans (ie: recent Southeast Asian refugees). The MFA controversy clearly falls into the category of #firstworldproblems. I've continued to write about it because the protesters have continued to minimize and dismiss dissenting Japanese and Japanese American viewpoints which is not something I can accept. It does seem that our energy would be better spent helping people in countries who could only dream of having problems such as ours.

The Counterprotesters

Fiction: The counterprotest was organized by a Japanese American.

Reality: The counterprotest was organized by Timothy Nagaoka, who identifies himself as Japanese. He has lived in the US for almost two decades and is a teacher of Japanese language in Boston. This misidentification was made by at least one media outlet (I sent a correction and they updated their post). I think people on social media may make that assumption because he has an Anglo first name.

Fiction: All counterprotesters are Japanese/Japanese American.

Reality: The counterprotest included two white Americans. I didn't speak to all the counterprotesters with Japanese heritage but because they were raised in Japan, they most likely identify as Japanese, not Japanese American, even if they have US citizenship. Nikkei identities tend to be quite different from Japanese born and/or raised in Japan. Many Japanese people I have met who spent their formative years in Japan don't feel comfortable identifying as Japanese American even if they've lived in the US for longer than they lived in Japan.

Claim: The counterprotesters don't understand what the protest is about.

My Thoughts: I can't speak for the counterprotesters but my sense was that they had three main messages: 1: let the MFA know they support Kimono Wednesdays in their original form, 2: ask the MFA to bring back the original Kimono Wednesdays, and 3: let the public know that as Japanese people they don't think it's offensive or racist for non-Japanese people to wear kimono at any time or in any way as demonstrated by the white counterprotesters. Beyond that Timothy very clearly believes that sharing Japanese culture is important, a view that my friends who counterprotested also share. One of my friends went because she wanted to share the beauty of kimono with museumgoers. I don't think most Japanese people feel there is a right and wrong way to share Japanese culture unless your goal is to insult them so I don't think they agree with the protesters' assertion that the museum went about sharing Japanese culture in the wrong way. All the Japanese counterprotesters are long-time residents (one has lived here more years than some of the protesters have been alive) and some even have US citizenship. I think they are aware of the issues but can't connect the dots the way the protesters do.

If you have any question about Kimono Wednesdays, the protest, or the counterprotest that I did not address please leave a comment below and I will answer your question if I can.

7/23/15 4:30pm: Please note that I've decided to make it my policy not to name any of the protesters, publish photos of their faces, or link directly to any of their personal websites or Twitter accounts. I know that they are being harassed and at least one of them has received death threats. Several of them have chosen to make their names and faces public but I just don't feel right contributing to an environment that makes it easier to harass them. If you want to do that you're on your own. I communicated this to one of the protest organizers last night and she said that she appreciated it.

Related posts

  • 7/19/15 2:55pm: Added link to MFA announcement on the changes to Kimono Wednesday.
  • 7/19/15 6:05pm: Fixed some grammar and confusing language.
  • 7/20/15 3:00pm: Added information about how Kimono Wednesday Spotlight Talks appears on the MFA's calendar.
  • 7/21/15: 12:00am: Added "The protest is ridiculous" claim.
  • 7/22/15 12:55pm: Updated links to protest Tumblr. Protesters have removed their original Tumblr (see here at and rebranded as "Decolonize Our Museums." 
  • 7/23/15 4:55am: Added "All of the protesters are Japanese American" fiction.
  • 7/23/15 4:10pm: Updated links to new protest Tumblr. Missed most of the broken links yesterday.
  • 7/23/15 4:30pm: Added to "The protesters are anti-Japanese" claim to include a sign from last night's protest. 
  • 7/24/15 3:30am: Added link to Jan Morrill's follow-up post under "The protesters think it is racist for all white people to wear kimono at any time."
  • 7/25/15 2:25am: Added links to Al Jazeera America articles under "The protesters are anti-Japanese".
  • 7/26/15 3:35am: Changed "Japan's military" to "the Japan Self-Defense Forces" and added link to Wikipedia. 
  • 7/16/15 5:40pm: Added link to demand to stop Kimono Wednesdays under "The protesters want to ban art" claim. 
  • 7/28/15 8:25pm: Added clarifying language that Timothy Nagaoka identifies himself as Japanese. This was not my classification.
  • 7/30/15 4:00pm: Reader pointed out that "it would not be accurate to say that the protest is the work of "Japanese-American activists."" was missing the word "not".
  • 8/4/15 2:00am: Added link to the ACLU of Northern California's "Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations".
  • 9/1/15: Added clarification about Japanese American protesters. Updated broken links to protest Tumblr. 
  • 11/3/15: Added clarification about identity of counterprotesters. Added link to protest postmortem description of incident on 7/29/15. Clarified that some Japanese Americans didn't have a problem with the protest being led by non-Japanese Asian Americans. Added sections on the context in which Kimono Wednesdays were held.
  • 2/10/16: It has come to my attention that one of the white counterprotesters identifies as genderqueer. This post has been updated to correct the misgendering. I apologize for the error!  
  • 2/18/16: Added "Kimono Wednesdays was sponsored by NHK/the Japanese government as part of their Cool Japan efforts." and "The replica uchikake were made by kimono artisans in Japan for the express purpose of allowing Americans to experience kimono."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Women of the World Kimono Flashmob for Peace

At some point I will stop talking about kimono and write up my Santouka review but in the meantime a friend passed this event along to me.

Women of the World, a Boston-based international musical ensemble, is hosting a Kimono Flashmob for Peace next month on Sunday, August 23, 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The women in Women of the World hail from Japan, Italy, India, and USA/Haiti.

Details can be found on their Facebook event page. You can register here. All are welcome: "We welcome and encourage ALL AGES & ALL NATIONALITIES to join us!"

Friday, July 17, 2015

George Takei in Do I Sound Gay?

You would think from the title of this post that I'm sharing a new George Takei viral video, but he's actually appearing in an interesting documentary titled Do I Sound Gay?. I know this is a bit off-topic but I'm always excited in anything George Takei does. Fellow Asian American queer, Margaret Cho, also appears in the film.

At the moment it looks like the only place the film will be screened in the Boston area is at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge beginning next Friday, July 24, 2015. Writer/Director David Thorpe will be there on July 24th and 25th, details TBA.

Do I Sound Gay?

Directed by David Thorpe
77 mins

Is there such a thing as a “gay voice”? Why do some people “sound gay” but not others? Why are gay voices a mainstay of pop culture—but also a trigger for anti-gay harassment? After a break-up with his boyfriend, journalist David Thorpe embarks on a hilarious and touching journey of self-discovery, confronting his anxiety about “sounding gay.” Enlisting acting coaches, linguists, friends, family, total strangers and celebrities (including David Sedaris, George Takei, Dan Savage, Margaret Cho, Don Lemon and Tim Gunn), he quickly learns that many people—both gay and straight—often wish for a different voice. In Thorpe's feature-length documentary debut, what starts as a personal journey becomes a chance to unpack layers of cultural baggage concerning sexuality, identity and self-esteem.

Part 2: Protest and counterprotest @ July 15th Kimono Wednesday

Hokusai banners at the MFA

Please see my original post for background: Monet's La Japonaise Kimono Wednesdays at the MFA.
Please see Part 1: La Japonaise replica uchikake @ Kimono Wednesdays for information and photos on the replica uchikake.

I've been to the MFA twice in the past couple of weeks. Two things struck me when I arrived last week that I'd like to point out before talking about the protests. The first was seeing large banners with Hokusai's Great Wave of Kanagawa hung at the museum entrance. It was awesome. The second was noticing that Japanese was the only other language besides English on a sign behind the ticket counter. I didn't think to ask them if that sign is always there or if they've had an influx of Japanese visitors during the Hokusai exhibit.

Sign behind the ticket counter

Last night was week four of the protest against Kimono Wednesdays organized by a group of Asian Americans and week two of counterprotesting organized by Japanese teacher Timothy Nagaoka who has lived in the US for almost two decades. I should note that I don't agree with the protesters (please read my original and follow-up posts for my detailed thoughts on this) and I support Timothy (who I met last night but have corresponded with before) so I'm not an unbiased observer.

Protesters against Kimono Wednesdays
I counted 18 protesters, though there may have been more. This is up from the “about a dozen” that the Boston Globe reported were there last week. I was late and the gallery was crowded, so people may have come and gone before I arrived or without my noticing. I have tried not to speculate about the heritage of the protesters but people have asked me who was there so I'll say that my sense was that they were 2/3 Asian American (including hapa folks and one protester who has identified herself as Japanese in signage but identified herself as Japanese American on Facebook) and 1/3 white allies. I do not believe that any Japanese nationals have joined their protest at the MFA but I have seen a few supportive comments on Facebook from people identifying themselves as Japanese.

Counterprotesters who would like the original event to return
I saw seven counterprotesters but there were actually nine. Timothy, five older Japanese women, one younger Japanese woman, and two younger white Americans (an age range from 20s to seniors). Seven of them were wearing kimono or yukata. (Full disclosure: three of the protesters are my friends.) The young folks told me they had been invited by one of my friends and didn't think they would have gone to counterprotest had they not been invited by someone Japanese. As white people they said they try to be mindful of their privilege. Timothy said he had five signs from last week and made five new signs for this week so everyone had one. One of the new signs quoted from Avenue Q's "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist": "Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes. Doesn't mean we go around committing hate crimes. Look around and you will find no one's really color blind. Maybe it's a fact we all should face, everyone makes judgments based on race." See photos here. See last week's post for other signs.

Always the educator:
"I am a Japanese language teacher, and I welcome museum exhibits that share Japanese culture with the community."
"Monet's painting represents the fascination that the French had for Japan in the nineteenth century, and the "Kimono" represents the fascination that the Japanese have for the painting today. "Kimono Wednesday" joins the fascination between the two countries."

Signs that addressed the protest and the MFA's decision to curtail the try on portion of Kimono Wednesdays read:
"'La Japonaise' celebrates the West's fascination with Japan. Let us take part in the celebration by putting on the kimono."
"Wearing a kimono does not make me a Racist or an imperialist." (pictured in the Boston Globe)
"The protesters have a right to be offended, but it should not dictate the enjoyment of others.
"I am Japanese, and I am offended that non-Japanese people have hijacked a Japanese exhibit that was started in Japan and well received there." (As noted above they have some Japanese American support but none of the organizers is Japanese American.)

The woman in the black floral yukata had made her own sign with quotes from Youtubers Rachel & Jun's Can Foreigners wear Kimono? response to the Kimono Wednesdays protest. "Rachel: Let me ask you some questions about when it's okay for foreigners to wear kimono. Jun: when it's okay for foreigners to wear kimono? Okay, there is only one answer, whenever."

Counterprotesters in kimono and yukata

All of Timothy's signs included a plea to the MFA to "Bring Back Kimono Wednesday," although at this point I don't think any of the counterprotesters believe the MFA will reinstate that part of the event this month. I think they all felt that it was important to be there to express to the MFA and the public that they don't see anything wrong with the event in its original form. There's also a lot of frustration among Japanese people that the protesters have hijacked a Japanese cultural event to their own ends (per Timothy's sign above - though I don't know if if all the counterprotesters share that view). The fact that NHK gave the uchikake as a gift to the MFA and they (the uchikake) are being treated in this manner seems quite embarrassing to some. Japanese and other Asian media outlets have not done a good job of framing the protests leading many Japanese people to conclude that the protest is anti-Japanese. Some feel that the charges leveled against the MFA are by extension leveled against all of Japan because this was a gift from Japan and the event originated there. The protesters have not made any anti-Japanese statements and have said the charges are only against the MFA, however they have continued to be dismissive of dissenting Japanese and Japanese American opinions saying that Japanese opinions are irrelevant because they don't live here (responding to opinion from Japan, not from Japanese nationals living here) and that Japanese and other Asian Americans who live here don't have the capacity to understand their protest and are defending the white power structure.

I saw a comment from a white supporter of the protesters that the counterprotest only responds to the kimono-wearing aspect thereby missing the point the protesters are trying to make, but I see it as Japanese people and non-Japanese kimono lovers wanting to make it clear that they do not believe it's racist to try on or wear a kimono and that they don't agree with the protesters linking their issues around racism and sexism to Kimono Wednesdays. That isn't missing the point of the protest it's saying they don't agree with the false equivalence between Kimono Wednesdays and racism, imperialism, white supremacy, rape of QTWOC (queer trans women of color), and the deaths of people of color at the hands of white Americans. It doesn't address what any of the counterprotesters think about those issues separate from Kimono Wednesdays.

I think to some degree the protest and counterprotest highlight cultural differences between Japanese nationals living in both Japan and the US and Asian Americans (including some Japanese Americans), although all the Japanese women who joined Timothy's counterprotest are also long-time residents of the US so I'm sure that as Asian women living in this country they've faced some of the same racist, sexist, culturally ignorant, and just plain awkward behavior that all Asian and Asian American women I know have had to deal with. I don't think they are unfamiliar with some of the issues the protesters have raised. Japanese people living in Japan are also not unaware of the fact that life in America can be dangerous for foreigners. The October 1992 murder of 16-year-old Yoshihiro Hattori, an exchange student from Nagoya who was staying in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was a huge deal in Japan and the fact that it was followed by three more murders of Japanese students in less than a year an a half made headlines in Japan. Less than a year after Hattori's murder, 25-year-old exchange student, Masakazu Kuriyama, died after being shot in Concord, California in August 1993. Police suggested it might have been an attempted robbery but said they were not ruling out a hate crime. Seven months later two Marymount College students, 19-year-olds Takuma Ito (Japanese national) and Go Matsuura (US national who grew up in Japan), died following an attempted carjacking in San Pedro, California. However, the Japanese seem to see these murders as a symptom of America's lax gun control rather than a problem related to racism. Hattori's shooter was white, Ito and Matsuura's carjacker was mixed race ("white, Mexican, and black descent"), and Kuriyama's assailant was never found. (I should note that these murders happened so long ago that young Japanese people may not be aware of them.)

I saw two protesters holding the same sign that I absolutely don't agree with: "Japanese Americans don't have the option to experience white culture just for fun." It was unclear to me if they both identify as Japanese American. If they do, I'm not sure how they go about experiencing "white culture" but I enjoy "white culture" "just for fun" all the time. (There is no such thing as "white culture" but for the sake of this argument I'll define it as anything related to "American culture" or the culture of an ancestral home of white people who live in America.) Some examples: I go out to dinner at white-owned restaurants and enjoy “white” cuisine with white friends. I attend musical concerts put on by white musicians who play music written and composed by white people. I once attended a pirate-themed party (throw by some white friends, of course) dressed as a wench. I also attended the coronation of a friend in the SCA ("an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe") when she was crowned Queen of the East Kingdom. Under her tutelage I made Viking garb for myself and a male friend who didn't have the sewing skills to make his own garb. None of the many white people in attendance accosted me and demanded to know why I as an Asian American was wearing the garb of their ancestors. I have some Italian Americans in my extended family. No one asks me if I understand the cultural significance of meatballs and pasta before they allow me to dig in. I don't understand how any Asian American can not experience "white culture" "just for fun". How else would you experience it?

Someone else had a sign that read
"La Japonaise: 
~@ it's finest~
Pay $ to the MFA to
devalue the experiences of
people of color & exercise your
I imagine this is referring to the MFA's exhorbitant $24 admission fee but as I keep pointing out, admission on Wednesdays during the time that Kimono Wednesdays are scheduled for is "by voluntary contribution" so the MFA is not making money off of Kimono Wednesdays and this is how the protesters have been able to go every week. Some people feel that Kimono Wednesdays were meant to be a viral marketing stunt because people would post their photos to social media but even if that's the case I still don't have a problem with it. Maintaining an art museum like this is not cheap and unlike the Smithsonian and art museums in other countries the MFA is not funded by taxpayer dollars. If people don't show up, they can't exist.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the protesters this week after reports I'd read and a video "conversation" they posted with Timothy last week on their now deleted Facebook page (which I wrote about last week). I did hear some heated conversations but for the most part I would say that the protest and counterprotest were peaceful. MFA staff told me at the end of the evening that the protesters behaved better this week than they had last week, although the counterprotesters who had attended the first Kimono Wednesday and spoken to protesters that night said they have become much more aggressive. It was my impression that contrary to what the protesters have said about it being their rule not to approach people they did approach the counterprotesters and initiate discussion. One of them told me she's never been treated more rudely in her entire life by most of the protesters she talked to. Only one conversed with her respectfully. Given the sort of rhetoric I've seen on their Facebook page I'm not surprised. I have not heard if they treated the older Japanese women with more respect than they afforded the white counterprotesters.

I asked MFA staff a question that has been asked by many Japanese people – why are the protesters permitted to be in the gallery? They said that ordinarily large protests are not permitted in the building or even on MFA grounds. They must stay on the sidewalk off MFA property. However in this case, the protest started really small (3 people the first week according to the staff) and they didn't feel protesters were being disruptive. As a museum they want people to talk about the art and since the protest sparked dialogue they decided to let them stay. It has been suggested that you should call the police or 911 if you get into a confrontation with protesters in the next two weeks. It is illegal to waste police time on things that are not a crime, accident, or medical emergency. It is not illegal to protest or to argue with people. Update 7/26/15: I found out last week that the MFA didn't have a policy to handle a situation like this since it had never happened before. I forgot to ask if they're working on a policy in case something like this this happens in the future.

Kimono Wednesdays are scheduled to continue through the end of July on Wednesdays with Spotlight Talks at 6:00pm - 6:15pm, 6:45pm - 7:00pm, and 7:15pm - 7:30pm. Admission on Wednesdays after 4pm is "by voluntary contribution" so it can be free if you want it to be. Please note that the protesters have stated in the past that they intend to be there every Wednesday. There are no plans for counterprotests for the remainder of the month but perhaps some individuals will show up to counterprotest.

Note: I have chosen not to show the faces of the protesters. I know they're posting their own photos on social media but I'm also aware that they are being harassed so I didn't feel it would be right to show their faces. I'm also not using their group's name because I find it offensive.

See also

Related posts

  • 7/17/15 4:10pm: Fixed some spelling and punctuation errors. Added some sentences with more detail on Japanese reaction to the protests.
  • 7/18/15 5:00pm: Updated the number of counterprotesters. This post originally said there were seven counterprotesters, six in kimono and yukata. 
  • 7/18/15 8:00pm: Added second photo of counterprotesters courtesy of Timothy Nagaoka. 
  • 7/19/15: 3:25am: Added link to The Boston Globe counterprotest article. 
  • 7/19/15: 3:10pm: Added age range because some people seem to think the counterprotesters were all older.
  • 7/22/15 12:55pm: Updated link to protest Tumblr. Protesters have removed their original Tumblr (see here at and rebranded as "Decolonize Our Museums."   
  • 7/26/15 2:55pm: Added/clarified information from MFA staff about the size of the protest and why they were permitted to stay.
  • 2/10/16: It has come to my attention that one of the white counterprotesters identifies as genderqueer. This post has been updated to correct the misgendering. I apologize for the error!