Cultural Appropriation – Or Society Gone Mad?


Do you have to be from Hawaii to wear a lei? (one of those colourful Hawaiian necklaces)
Do you have to be Chinese to learn kung-fu?
Do you have to be Italian to be a pasta chef?

Well, then… you don’t have to be Japanese to wear a kimono, either.


Cultural Appropriation?

So what exactly is cultural appropriation? A quick google search and you’ll find something like this:

Cultural appropriation is a concept dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.

Basically, it is when the culture of a minority is absorbed into society (a majority culture). However, it’s not quite so simple. If you go to Wikipedia, you’ll also find this quote.

” Cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism: cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture.


Cultural Appropriation in the Media?

I do believe preserving culture is extremely important, but wouldn’t it be going too far to stop people from enjoying another culture?

I don’t think the average person is worried about cultural appropriation, but from time to time, it does pop up in the media.

We had Avril Lavigne with her ‘Hello Kitty’ song a little while back. A few days ago, we had the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest who wore a Japanese kimono dress while performing (Isreal’s Netta Barzilai).


Is it really that bad?

While I admit cultural appropriation is a thing and it is something to be careful about, are we not pushing things a little too far now?

Sure, the kimono dress is part of Japan’s culture, but culture isn’t meant to stay trapped in a box. It spreads and it adapts in order to survive. It’s precisely because of culture spreading far and wide, that our countries are what they are today.

If you ask a Japanese person if foreigners can wear kimono or do other cultural related activities, they will reply: “yes, of course. Why wouldn’t they be able to?”.

If it is a real kimono, worn in the correct way, with nothing that is disrespectful to the culture, then I can’t take any of this ‘cultural appropriation’ stuff seriously.


cultural appropriation                                                                        (A caucasian with dreadlocks)

Where is Society Going?

Do we now live in a world where we are no longer free to wear what we want? Are we not allowed to show we like something by wearing it? Are we unable to speak freely on the off-chance we insult someone by saying something they don’t agree with? Or are we losing sight of what we are actually aiming for? – a free, fair, and multicultural society that co-exists in peace?

On a final note, I am not an expert in cultural appropriation, and I dare say my knowledge of it is even lacking. I’m still prepared to be swayed on this whole cultural appropriation thing, so let me know your opinion down in the comments.


It’s been almost four years since I first went to Japan, and admittedly, I can’t seem to remember what really surprised me. Thanks to YouTube, you can get to know a country quite well without ever having to go there. There are millions of videos out there that show the quirky and interesting side of Japan, but these types of videos are meant to entertain you, not show you everyday-life. There are YouTubers, such as Victor from Gimmeaflakeman, though, who show and discuss Japan in a way that gives you some real insight into what to expect when you go there.



There is both positive and negative culture shock. Some people may stop reading if I insult the magic land of Japan that they have dreamt up, while others know all too well how hard it can be to adjust to a society that doesn’t always make things easy for you.



I remember the exact moment I arrived in Japan. I exited the plane and walked down the narrow path that connects to the airport. While walking, I was greeted by a surprising number of Japanese people, dressed in slick suits who bowed to me and welcomed me to their country. These important people were bowing to me? Although I had heard and seen so much about bowing on TV and online, it still felt very surreal. “I’m just some English chump, why are these professional looking people bowing to me?!”


In fact, bowing is everywhere in Japan. I bet the average Japanese person bows a hundred times a day (don’t hold me on that number, though). When you introduce yourself or say sorry, when you accidentally clip shoulders with someone at a busy train station, when you say thank you or bye – it’s everywhere. Even if your Japanese ability is low, you should try to master the bow because it’s a versatile way to convey your manners and feelings.



As for negative aspects of culture shock, I think this one comes up a lot. Toilets! I’m sure many of you have heard about the brilliance of the Japanese toilet. However, not all toilets have fancy gadgets and heating – some are quit


e rudimentary. Yep, basically, a hole in the ground for you to do your business in. Even now, I’ve never mustered up the courage to use one – I think my legs would start wobbling and I’d collapse.

toilet, japanese toilet



To be honest, though, the toilet thing wasn’t really a shock. I was surprised, however, by the way in which garbage is collected in Japan. Instead of nice, big bins to put in a week’s worth of rubbish, most rubbish is put into supermarket-sized plastic bags and then left out on the street. Sometimes there would be huge mountains of rubbish bags making it almost impossible to walk down the pavement. To make things worse, Japan’s monster-sized crows would rip open the bags to create huge messes. This really isn’t a big deal, it simply surprised me because you often hear compliments about how spotless and litter-free Japan is, and most of the time, it is… just not on the morning the bins are collected!

These kinds of culture shock aren’t really a problem for 99% of foreigners who go to Japan. Humans have an amazing ability to get used to their surroundings very quickly.


I believe the true problems caused by culture are not the ones that come as shock when you first arrive, but the ones that slowly creep up on you after months or even years. Many foreigners get fed up with Japan within a few years and decide to leave. Why? Culture.

In particular, work culture in Japan is difficult for even Japanese people to grasp, so for us foreigners, it’s a nightmare. Once the magic of Japan fades (and it surely will), and the long working hours and the endless list of problems caused by you being a foreigner starts to nag away at you… well, who wouldn’t think about going home? I wouldn’t blame them.


To wrap things up, don’t worry about culture shock – consider it an interesting phenomenon. For those of you who dream of working in Japan until retirement, I’d suggest you have a plan B just in case just change your mind someday!