Police in China arrest cosplayer for ‘wearing a kimono’ near anniversary of Japan’s WWII surrender

Photo of the cosplayer in Suzhou before she was stopped by the police.
Photo of the cosplayer in Suzhou before she was stopped by the police. © Weibo :"是影子不是本人"

In a video reportedly filmed on August 10, a policeman accuses a young Chinese woman wearing a kimono, a traditional Japanese outfit, of "causing trouble" before arresting her. The scene, which has gone viral online since August 14, is the subject of debate on Chinese social networks, 77 years after Japan's surrender in World War II.

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The controversy that has been stirring up Chinese social networks for the past few days surrounds a cosplayer, a person who dresses as a Japanese manga and anime character. The cosplayer shared a video on her Weibo account, the equivalent of Twitter in China, in which a police officer reproaches her for wearing a Japanese kimono. 

In the video, she can be seen facing a police officer from behind. She is wearing a blonde wig and a pink kimono with flowers, similar to the one worn by the heroine of the Japanese anime "Summer Time Rendering" (2022). She explained on her Weibo account (archive link available here) that she was queuing outside a Japanese restaurant with her photographer on August 10 after a photo shoot when the police arrived. 

Video originally posted on Weibo account "是影子不是本人".
A video circulating on Twitter shows the cosplayer being taken away by the police and another man in front of her. The cosplayer had indicated that she was with her photographer.

In the original video, which had accumulated nearly 8 million views before being removed, the young woman is facing police officers. One policeman says to her in Chinese: "If you were wearing a hanfu, there would be no problem, but you are wearing a kimono and you are Chinese. Are you Chinese?"

The woman takes offence and the policeman then tells her that she is suspected of "causing trouble".

A scene from "Summer Time Rendering" that the cosplayer wanted to reproduce, where the heroine wears the Yukata (summer kimono) worn by the cosplayer and eats Takoyaki (octopus fritters) available at the restaurant where she was in line.

The scene took place in the city of Suzhou, a neighbouring city of Shanghai. More precisely in Huaihai Street, known for its many Japanese restaurants and shops, where the cosplayer explains that she went to re-enact several scenes from an anime series. 

According to the young woman's account on social networks, she was questioned for nearly five hours before being released. The Suzhou police have not officially reacted or responded to requests from several media outlets such as The Guardian, nor have they officially announced any sanctions for the cosplayer. According to CNN, the young woman explained on her profile on the "Qzone" platform that the police asked her to write a letter of apology. 

Between nationalist criticism and photos of supporters in kimonos

The video has elicited widespread debate online, against a backdrop of heightened anti-Japanese sentiment in China on the occasion of the 77th anniversary of Japan's surrender and the end of World War II.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remain tense, with China arguing that Japan has not apologised sufficiently for abuses committed during the war, notably the 1937 Nanjing massacre. Currently, tensions are particularly high as Japan accuses China of threatening peace by carrying out military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. 

On Weibo, several posts criticised the young woman for wearing traditional Japanese dress in such a context. 

"The national outfit of Japan should not be in this country!" says this Weibo post, alongside others with a similar sentiment.
"The national outfit of Japan should not be in this country!" says this Weibo post, alongside others with a similar sentiment. © Weibo
A Weibo post by the Chinese Communist Youth League recalling that the Japanese army forced "comfort women" (women made sex slaves during Japan's invasion of China during World War II) to wear kimonos. "The heinous crimes committed by Japanese militarism against the Chinese people are too numerous to be forgotten," the post concludes.
A Weibo post by the Chinese Communist Youth League recalling that the Japanese army forced "comfort women" (women made sex slaves during Japan's invasion of China during World War II) to wear kimonos. "The heinous crimes committed by Japanese militarism against the Chinese people are too numerous to be forgotten," the post concludes. © Weibo

Others said the officer reacted excessively, saying that the young woman had worn the outfit on August 10, and not August 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender. 

The post says: "To be honest, I don't think there's anything wrong with a person wearing a kimono or a western dress, it's a matter of human freedom."
The post says: "To be honest, I don't think there's anything wrong with a person wearing a kimono or a western dress, it's a matter of human freedom." © Weibo
"Congratulations, you patriots, for what you are doing, in addition to intimidating your compatriots," this Weibo post quips.
"Congratulations, you patriots, for what you are doing, in addition to intimidating your compatriots," this Weibo post quips. © Weibo
Some Chinese women have posted photos of themselves in kimonos in support, such as this young woman who posted a photo of herself in a kimono in Japan in 2016. This photo was also picked up and heavily criticised on Weibo.
Some Chinese women have posted photos of themselves in kimonos in support, such as this young woman who posted a photo of herself in a kimono in Japan in 2016. This photo was also picked up and heavily criticised on Weibo. © Weibo

However, it is difficult to give a complete overview of the reaction to the incident: CNN claimed that a related hashtag has been censored from Weibo after accumulating 90 million views.

For its part, the news site What's On Weibo notes that the state channel CCTV promoted a topic on Weibo about the Chinese hanfu, the counterpart of the Japanese kimono, on the evening of the controversy.