An internet post from 2012 has resurfaced and sparked a debate about cultural diffusion, which is a concept that two (or more) differing cultures adopt aspects from each other and integrate it into their own culture.
The topic is centered around a blog post from The Gala Gals. In it, a mom living in Utah organized a Japanese Tea themed birthday party for her daughter. Kimonos, Geisha makeup, and Japanese inspired food were a part of the party.
While the kids looked they had a fun time, Tumblr user ginzers has accused the post of encouraging cultural appropriation. The user argues:
“The makeup is clearly reflective of traditional Geisha makeup which is yellowface and therefore racist. Furthermore, the girl is wearing a kimono, a garment that has for ages carried cultural significance. Assuming that she is white how can you think this is ok? And cultural appropriation isn’t a thing? What rock do you live under? I suggest you educate yourself on the differences between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.”
There are academics that agree that cultural appropriation is a very real issue, but it’s not in the context ginzers is using. For starters, cultural appropriation is outright stealing elements of another culture, ignoring its origin, and fetishizing it against the desires of the originators.
It’s also incorrect to call Geisha makeup yellowface. Geisha makeup is porcelain white because it made it easier to see their facial expressions in dimly lit rooms. Fun fact: Geisha makeup originated in China.
And while the kimono garment is indigenous to Japan, it doesn’t hold any more cultural significance than a pair of sandals. In fact, “kimono” literally means “thing to wear.”
While ginzers is ranting and accusing people of racism, a Japanese Tumblr user called Yuki decided to shut things down:
“I am Japanese, in Japan at this very moment. The only people who think culture shouldn’t be shared are racists like you.
“A vast majority of Japanese people actually enjoy other people making an effort to spread and enjoy Japanese culture, and encourage it. Many make businesses in deliberately taking pictures of people in kimono. A common omiage (gift) for foreigners from Japanese people is traditional Japanese things such as kimonos, tea sets, shisa dog statues, etc.
“And to top it off, basically 80 percent of Japanese customs, traditions, and food came from other countries. Japanese is an integration of different cultures, like America. Japan takes influences from places like Korea, China, Russia, and Europe. If Japan stuck to itself, there would be no tempura, Japanese tea, tea ceremonies, kabuki, Japanese bread, Japanese curry, J-Pop, anime, cars, or modern fishing techniques. The picture is not ‘yellow face’ they are not making fun of Asians. In fact, it looks like they put extra care and research into their work.
“The only reason that you have a problem with this is because that little girl is white and you know that it is acceptable on Tumblr to crap all over white people. The only racist here is you.”
Where do you stand on this debate?