Is it offensive to open the kimono?

What would be your reaction if an employer asked you to “open the kimono”?

That astonishing phrase is baffling young graduates and might well put them off working for a company, according to the Times newspaper.

The article highlights the confusing jargon which appears in job advertisements and explains that “to open the kimono” means to reveal a project’s inner workings.

It appeared as a headline in the Financial Times recently, above an article about investment entitled “Opening the kimono on dark pools”.

“Dark pools” – it turns out – are a rather opaque form of financial investment.

Intimidating and erotic

Alan Connor, who is an expert on crosswords, attempted to explain the origin of the term “open the kimono” to his readers in the Guardian.

He wrote that: “The phrase goes back to the 1980s, when certain American businessmen found Japan both intimidating and rousingly exotic.”

He feels that the term is “simultaneously childish, predatory and not un-racist.”

The racist and sexist overtones of the phrase were noted by Rob Stock, writing for the New Zealand website

He claims that open the kimono is an example of “dated, gendered language” and dismisses it as “50-something, white male business-speak.”

Feminine symbol

In Japan, where gender norms are different to those in New Zealand, both men and women wear kimonos. The word itself has a rather prosaic literal meaning; “a thing to wear”.

Nevertheless, in Japan, traditional kimonos are extremely expensive and are passed down through generations, like treasure.

And internationally, the kimono is regarded as a potent symbol of femininity.

California store

In the United States, it’s possible to buy adaptations of the costumes at a shop called Open The Kimono in Venice, California.

Most people who reviewed the store on Yelp seemed to like it.  One lady said that: “Every kimono is handmade and the owner finds luscious combinations of designs.”

Another customer said: “Open the Kimono is such a lovely shop! The owner, who is also the designer, is very friendly and dedicated to her craft.”

I am afraid that there was a note of dissent recorded on Yelp, too.

Sue from Brooklyn complained: “Racist white owners capitalizing off of Asian appropriation as per usual. If you want to look like a basic ass white girl flaunting overpriced clothing, this is your store.”

I may be wrong but I suspect that Sue has not visited the store as it’s nearly three thousand miles from Brooklyn to Venice. My guess is that she is unhappy with the name of the shop.

As the Times noted in its article, businesses which use annoying phrases or meaningless jargon do risk a bad reaction.

And indeed the shop has changed its name since the Yelp page appeared. It’s now called Ibby Hartley and it still sells kimonos but leaves it to the customers’ discretion whether they should be open or closed.