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What Are You Wearing?

This Is Not a Kimono

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Kris Ercums, 35, is working toward a PhD in East Asian art history at the University of Chicago. He leaves for China on a Fulbright-Hays fellowship at the end of the month.

That's a nice kimono.

Actually it's a yukata.

What's a yukata?

It's a light cotton kimono meant to be worn during the summer.

Where'd you get it?

This summer I was in Japan, studying the language and doing research in Osaka. We had a yukata class, where you could try one on--this older woman tied them for us and showed us how to wear them. So the people I was in the class with decided that we would go buy one for Gion Matsuri, which is a big festival in Kyoto. People usually wear their traditional yukatas to these kind of events. It's a strange feeling of, are you being an orientalist, someone who's fetishizing the East? But I think people for the most part are quite happy for you to participate in Japanese culture.

What attracted you to this particular yukata?

I bought this one largely because it has such a painterly quality about it. It looks like painted bamboo. The bamboo is kind of symbolic because it's hollow in the middle but it bends, so it has this gentlemanly quality--man has principles that keep him upright, but not so inflexible. It also has this great group connotation, because bamboo always grows together.

Have you picked up other Asian-style clothing in your travels?

I have a whole Chinese wardrobe, I have beautiful clothes from Thailand. I love all of this stuff. Here I wear it mostly at dinner parties. Sometimes I wear my Chinese outfits to work. I don't think the yukata would be as easy to mix in with--it's such a grand outfit.

And you wear it with the traditional sandals too.

They're really uncomfortable. When I stayed out all night in Kyoto at Gion my feet were just killing me. --Heather Kenny

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Saverio Truglia.

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