Kimono: The Identity of the Japanese People


Six years ago in 2006*1, I started a kimono dressing class when I discovered that there were people in Los Angeles who were interested in learning how to dress a kimono and wanted to acquire a kimono stylist license.*2  You may wonder why  kimono stylists are needed in the United States.  Contrary to the popular belief, the needs for kimonos in this country are unexpectedly high.  Since then, I've coached and developed over 30 licensed kimono stylists so far.  Among them was a 74-year-old Caucasian gentleman who was collecting kimono and enjoyed dressing them in the same manner that one admires works of art. I asked him one day why he liked kimono so much.  He smiled and said, "It is because kimono is the most beautiful national costume in the world.”

The basic shape and style of the Japanese kimono was established 400 years ago, and to this day it continues to draw worldwide attention with its incredible beauty and sophisticated dressing techniques.  The kimono is not only a national costume of Japan, but has also become “wearable art.”


[Blending Classic Tradition with Modern Innovation]

I started “KIMONO SUEHIRO AGENCY" as a place for kimono rental, kimono costume design and kimono dressing classes.   My business is to contribute to the kimono culture, and through my daily work, my goal is to spread this culture throughout the world.  

For the past two years, I have been in charge of folk costume production for representatives of Japan in the “Miss Asia USA Cultural Pageant,” an annual event that selects the most beautiful young Asian woman living in the United States.  In the first year, I featured a traditional long-sleeved kimono known as "Furisode," but it did not win a prize.  Furisode and Uchikake were both spectacular and gorgeous, but were unable to stand out from those costumes with multiple spangles and gaudy feathers that the winners from the other countries were wearing.  I deeply appreciate the tradition of kimono.  However, I soon realized that it would be impossible to dazzle others in this type of contest if I stayed within the limitations of tradition.  The next year, therefore, I brought a fresh idea of a Victorian-style kimono dress, and it won the third place as well as the photogenic prize.  Since the pageant was started 25 years ago, it was the very first time that a Japanese contestant won a prize and finished in the top ten.

The costume caught the media’s attention.   Soon after, I received an invitation and request from the Consulate-General of Japan in Los Angeles to show the costume at the annual celebration reception of the Emperor's Birthday held every year in the official residence of the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles.  The fact that the new genre I created was accepted by the Consul General of Japan built my confidence.



                                             A photo with Mr. Jun Niimi, the Consul General of Japan in LA


[Why Aren’t More Japanese People Living Abroad? ]

The pleasure I experience when kimono is praised resembles the feeling of honor when people connect the Japanese brand with trust and quality.  Due to the reliability of their products, many Japanese brands have succeeded worldwide in bringing peace of mind to their customers.  Without introduction, we Japanese have already been acknowledged by the world with our identity.   We are treated as excellent, talented people--what a privilege it is to be a Japanese.  It is said that the percentage of Japanese emigrating overseas is extremely low when compared to other countries.  It seems a shame that not many Japanese are yearning for and entering the world stage.

Did you give up to emigrate overseas due to concerns of a language problem or a difficulty of employment?  If you still have a passion to challenge the world, I believe that emigration is one of your choices.  It’s never too late. I moved to the United States by myself just before I turned 40.  "The world is much more exciting than you think!"  This is a message from me, who has been living abroad for more than a decade. For my fellow Japanese who are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, I wonder if knowing the world better can inspire and encourage you to get out of your rut.  If we see the splendor of us Japanese who are being acknowledged by the world, I believe that we become more proud of our identity and improve our self-confidence.


Sueko Oshimoto

Costume designer / YamanoryuKisou CA branch Executive Director Junkaiden


"Elneos" June, 2012 Issued. 

"Daily Sun" November 29, 2012 Issued.


(*1 This article was written and published in 2012.)

(*2 The Kimono stylist license is issued by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, and it has been managed by the International Beauty Association of Japan.  The license has been recognized internationally in the fashion and cosmetic industries.)  

Translator: Fusako Shiotani

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