With the controversy over the model’s Vogue photos ongoing, has anyone bothered to check on how Japan feels?

Recently, Caucasian American model Karlie Kloss traveled to Japan for a photo shoot with Vogue to be used as part of the magazine’s diversity issue. Among the photos taken were ones of the 24-year-old Chicago native wearing kimono-like garments, her hair dyed black and pinned up, and one in which she poses next to a sumo wrestler.

Vogue titled the feature “Spirited Away,” no doubt after the Hayao Miyazaki anime movie, and its opening text reads:

“Nestled among the sacred shrines of Japan’s Ise-Shima National Park, a tranquil geothermal spa resort taps into the country’s time-honored bathing rituals. Paying homage to Japan’s geisha culture, Karlie Kloss soaks up the serenity.”

Shortly after the pictures were revealed to the public, Kloss and Vogue were inundated with criticism from the English-speaking media and online community, citing it as a case of inappropriate cultural appropriation with headlines appearing such as:

“People Are Furious Karlie Kloss Dressed Like A Geisha For Vogue’s Diversity Issue”

“Karlie Kloss Apologizes for Controversial Geisha Vogue Spread”

“Karlie Kloss is ‘Truly Sorry’ For Participating in That Geisha Photoshoot in Vogue”

As alluded to in the headlines, Kloss herself issued an apology via Twitter.

Two things have been lost in the uproar, the first being that “woman in a kimono” does not, by any means, immediately equal “geisha,” although Vogue definitely set itself up for that one by bringing up “geisha culture” in the feature’s introduction. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth pointing out, though, that the cut and patterns of the kimono-like garb Kloss wears in the shoot are largely incongruent with those worn by geisha in either Japan’s present or past.

The second thing that hasn’t been part of the discussion is how people in Japan, whose traditions and scenery served as the motif of the photo shoot, have reacted to the photos. The images have been making the rounds of the Japanese Internet, and Japanese Twitter users have had the following to say about them (translations appear below each tweet).

“I feel sorry for Karlie Kloss. The Vogue photos were beautiful.”

Karlie Kloss dresses like a Japanese person.
Japanese people: “Wow! You respect Japanese culture! You’re our friend! We’re happy!”
People overseas: “She’s stealing Japanese culture!”
People overseas: “She’s making fun of Japanese people!”
Japanese people: “Huh?”

As of this writing, Japanese Twitter users have been overwhelmingly supportive of the photos. Many have voiced bewilderment or exasperation at other parties becoming, to their minds, indignant on their behalf.

“What makes me angry is people getting upset and shouting that this is racist even as they ignore the sensibilities of people in Japan. It’s easy to see that they’re trying to use the situation to drum up business, and in the end, they don’t really care about what the people from the culture in question actually think.”

“They’re psychopaths who get a sense of superiority by calling anything and everything racist until the other party bows its heads in shame.”


“So foreigners see this and think it’s racist. But Japanese me sees this and has no idea what they’re talking about. The photos are cool.”

“Karlie Kloss and Vogue magazine seem to have issued an apology. They may have big bodies, but foreigners sure are narrow-mindedly hung up on small things.”

“America, the racist country where if you dress like a Japanese woman, you’re criticized as being racist.”


“I read that ‘People who saw the photos called them racist’ or said ‘Seriously?’”

“So if a white model dresses like a Japanese person, white people get worked up and call it racist. Makes no sense at all.”

“So the overseas reaction was ‘Mighty Whitey cosplays as inferior Jap race, is called racist, and apologizes.’ Political correctness is getting weird. The ones calling her racist have more racist ideas. And in the picture with the sumo wrestler, isn’t she cosplaying as [anime character] Sazae-san?”

Perhaps because kimono (which literally means “thing to wear,” i.e. “clothes”) in and of itself has no religious or ceremonial significance, this Twitter user reacted more comically, referencing this piece of artwork for the anthropomorphized U.S. battleship Iowa, as she appears in the popular Kantai Collection anime/video game franchise.

“So after Karlie Kloss, is this is the next American girl they’re going to start hounding for an apology?”

The closest things to criticism of Kloss currently on Japanese Twitter were these two messages.

“Karlie Kloss wore a kimono in her fashion shoot, I don’t think there’s anything racist at all about that (though some people might disagree). I guess since it was in the Diversity Issue, if you do this you can’t escape being called inconsiderate.”

“I didn’t see anything at all racist about this, but some people seem to think this is a case of ‘A white person took the job a Japanese person does,’ and are extending the concept of affirmative action to the situation. Even after reading that explanation, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Some even expressed their hope that foreign interest in kimono will lead to people of other cultures taking a greater interest in Japan.

“So in regards to Karlie Kloss, as Japanese people, we should be saying ‘There’s no problem! Please do more of this!’ about any aspect of Japanese culture. And to those who say this is whitewashing or racist, to you I say, before you get angry at her, please do something about your concepts about ninja.”

“Thinking about Karlie Kloss, I like the fact that Japan isn’t a country that sees this as racist. Knowing things about other cultures is fun, so I’d like to learn overseas and try on traditional clothing. I’m happy to see foreigners wear Japanese clothing, and next I’d recommend tea ceremony and flower arrangement. If the rest of the world was like Japan, people could dress however they want and enjoy other cultures.”

And finally, there was this Twitter user, putting a finer point on the fashions being worn in the photos.


“I think this is Asian-style cosplay art, coming from the image people from North America and Europe, as opposed to Japanese, have. If this is racist, then we can’t do cosplay, right? I don’t think there’s any malicious or slanderous intent, and the only thing I can see it as is an art piece. I don’t think Karlie Kloss has anything to apologize for.”

While that does sort of imply that Vouge’s planned “homage to Japan’s geisha culture” ended up looking like an amateur anime convention effort, it also crystalizes that, whether the photos look cheesy or not, Japanese Twitter apparently has no beef with Kloss.

Sources: Buzzfeed, Variety, Jezebel
Featured image: Vogue