Furry business

“Japanese women love to wear fur.” Why have I chosen this simple statement as the topic for an entire blog post? Because the difference in attitude towards fur between Japan and Belgium (and I think Europe in general) is a striking cultural difference.

A girl wearing a fur scarf.
In Japan, fur usually appears as a trimming on coats and gloves, rather than as a full fur coat. Fur scarves, as seen in this picture, are also popular. Image from http://www.tokyofashion.com
Two girls wearing fur collars. This kind of collar is very popular in winter fashion. Image from www.tokyofasion.com (click on image to go to site)
Two girls wearing fur collars. This kind of collar is very popular in Japanese winter fashion. Image from http://www.tokyofashion.com

I have had a lot of trouble explaining to Japanese women why most Belgians frown upon the practice of fur as a fashion statement. In Belgium, fur coats are usually only worn by wealthy, elderly ladies; possibly belonging to the aristocracy. Fur is simply not considered politically correct, of course relating to concerns regarding animal suffering. I think fur is also considered a tad decadent. We Belgians are a simple people (*insert self-mockery*).

Most European people, on the other hand, find it difficult to understand why Japanese people wouldn’t think twice about wearing fur. Here is a nation that cherishes the seasons, has dedicated vast amounts of poetry to the beauty of nature and is collectively overcome by a screaming fit of ‘kawaii!!!!’¹ if exposed to so much as the slightest hint of a furry creature; yet wearing fur is considered the most normal thing in the world. Indeed I have been scolded by a Japanese girl for admitting to occasionally eating rabbit, while she herself was wearing a fur scarf that looked an awful lot like rabbit fur. It is one of the many contradictions in Japanese culture that one simply cannot make sense of and that contribute to the enigma of this fascinating country.

As with most cultural differences, I have evolved from initial amazement and slight shock to a general acceptance of the habit. I even went as far as purchasing a pair of rabbit fur-trimmed gloves myself, my reasoning being that if I eat rabbit, I shouldn’t have a problem with wearing rabbit fur either. I did draw the line at the beautiful white coat in the picture below. I checked the label when I went to try it on, only to find out it was fox fur. My captivation with the coat was instantly dispelled.

Beautiful white coat trimmed with fox fur. That's a bridge I won't cross.
Beautiful white coat trimmed with fox fur. Although I think the coat is gorgeous, the fact that the collar is fox fur really put me off.

¹kawaii means cute



11 thoughts on “Furry business

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  1. I’ve done a complete turn around on fur… I now wear it. If my husband eats the rabbit, then I’ll use the fur – it’s insulting to the death of the animal not to use everything. I wouldn’t hunt a tiger and have it pay the ultimate sacrifice just for it’s skin! However I would use the skin, if I shot it to protect myself or my flocks, or it had just died on it’s own.

    I’m in Australia, where foxes and rabbits are pests and kill our native wildlife to extinction – I’d certainly use and wear a wild caught/shot fox skin or rabbit skin. We have so many sheep, goat, and kangaroo that are eaten, it’s silly not to use the skin, and very wasteful. I visit Japan a lot, and happily wear fur there.

    I’d use a seal skin if I lived in the places where they’re hunted for food, but not otherwise. I’d never kill an immature animal, of any kind, unless it’s an ecological pest.

    I’ve recently become interested in fish leathers as well – super thin, super strong, and very soft.
    I wouldn’t use caged mink or rabbit, or any caged fur – even though it’s a kinder death than they get in the wild, they’re caged lives aren’t good.

    I’m a vegetarian, but I firmly believe in catching, killing, and eating/using all the animal. I don’t see why most modern humans think they can escape the responsibility for the meat and animal products they consume. They’ll condemn fur, and turn their noses up at an abattoir, yet enjoy their steak, wear their leather shoes and bags and have very little respect for the animal that died for their nourishment and pleasure. The avoidance of guilt and responsibility is detrimental to your personal growth (this is ONLY MY OPINION – I don’t assume everyone will, or should, agree. We all make our best judgement according to our experiences and understanding).

    If you’re vegan in lifestyle as well as eating habits, good for you, but those plastics and petroleum products used in faux leathers and furs, etc, poison the planet- including all those animals you’re trying to save.Things like mushroom leathers haven’t been fully developed, nor are they cheap enough yet.

    It’s such a personal ethical choice, and I don’t think there’s any ‘black and white’ to this issue.

  2. I am not a fan of fur it makes me sneeze, though I have 2 or 3 jackets with fur on them given to me by friends. The fur are synthetic though so I don’t feel guilty.

    1. Yes, I agree that there is no need to feel guilty about synthetic fur. Although now that I have seen the difference, I have to admit that it really isn’t the same (as far as quality and looks are concerned).

  3. Growing up I was never a fan of fur, I found it to be something for old ladies. My mom and aunt LOVED their fur coats. Though I didn’t like it before, I think some fur as accents are okay. Not a huge full coat though. I really like good quality faux fur because you have to care for fur properly or it turns ugly. I do really like the last photo you posted, that coat is gorgeous. I would never wear it because I would dirty it in a heartbeat.

    1. Haha, same here about the white coat. I already have trouble keeping my dark green coat clean. Japanese women have an outstanding talent for looking impeccable, something that I unfortunately have not been able to learn during my stay in Japan. That was another reason for not buying the coat, along with the price and the fact that (unfortunately) I just don’t look good in ‘kawaii’ stuff.

  4. Good observation once again! I don’t know what else to say except that the Japanese do not have lots of inhibitions about everything. We don’t really have a big vegetarian population (i.e. it’s assumed that everyone eats meat), we still allow smoking in restaurants (terrible), leniency is practiced towards drinking, etc. But for more newly introduced aspects of life, we may tend to make rules early on such as no talking on mobile phone on public transportation. (Talking loudly on public transportation has never been accepted come to think of it.)

    1. It is quite difficult to make sense of, don’t you think? To me it seems that on the one hand, there are many inhibitions but in other areas there are very little. Take the example you give of smoking: indeed there is still smoking in restaurants but smoking while walking along the street is not allowed (which I greatly appreciated by the way). In Belgium it is the other way around: there is no smoking in restaurants but smoking in the street is allowed.

      Another example of an apparent contradiction: in Japan there is absolutely no inhibiton about nudity in front of people of the same sex, but a great inhibition about nudity in front of the opposite sex. In Belgium it’s different: people either feel inhibited about nudity all togheter, or not at all (which means mixed gender saunas for example).

      These apparent discrepancies fascinate me tremendously, but they make it difficult to correctly explain the nuances of Japanese culture to foreigners. Good thing I like a challenge 🙂

      I love the rule about not talking on your mobile phone in public transportation by the way.

      1. About smoking, the no-smoking on the street rule is not really enforced or some “wards” in Tokyo enforce it more than others, but when there is no punishment, people tend to ignore the newly-introduced and unpopular (to some people) rules. I hate that about Japan. I would really want my ward to totally ban smoking on the street and punish those that break the rule but they don’t make big enough signs for smokers to be intimidated enough to stop it. I would think putting up signs would be cheaper than sending a troop to extinguish cigarettes but that’s what they do. I guess that one tobacco company has too much power.

        Interesting nudity observation. So true.

        1. I totally understand your feeling about the smoking. I hate it too. But your story about breaking the smoking rules is very interesting to me. When I first got to Japan, I was amazed to find that some Japanese people don’t follow the rules. At one point someone parked in our clearly indicated, private parking spot in front of our house. The police came, but all they did was put a sign on the window saying ‘please don’t do this again’. We were amazed that the police didn’t have the authority to write out a fine. And consequently the spot was taken again after that, because people know there are no consequences. Here’s the full story: https://thejapans.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/parking-space-stolen/

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