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TSUNAGU: To Connect: Whether it is connecting employers to job seekers or bringing different cultures together, we at Activ8 value the bridge-builders who make our world a better place every day. Our new series, TSUNAGU, will feature inspirational people who connect North America and Japan through business, education, art, culture and more.

Akane Mashimo: Kimono dressing instructor, Entrepreneur, President of LA Kimono Club

Akane Mashimo runs a kimono dressing school in Los Angeles, and is the president of the LA Kimono Club. Born and raised in Osaka, the kimono was not something she was very familiar with, but she was attracted to its beauty and elegance. Growing up, she often yearned to be in a place that respected individual freedom, and participating in a study abroad program in the U.S. during high school convinced her that she really wanted to be part of American society. She graduated from high school in Osaka, and worked for some time before moving to Los Angeles to attend a community college.  She got married, and eventually, LA felt like home. Even as the years passed, however, she always had the beauty of the kimono in the back of her mind. Ten years ago, after her first child started going to a preschool, she finally had a little spare time, and began to learn how to dress herself in kimono. She went on to take classes at the Kiyoto Kimono Institute in Kyoto, and this spring, completed an instructor training course there. She just established a branch of the Kyoto Kimono Institute in Los Angeles, and Akane is earnestly working to promote the “KIMONO lifestyle,” in which kimonos are worn on a daily basis in the United States. We asked her about her life and values, and also for her advice about pursuing your passions.

Falling love with America

Akane first visited the U.S. during the summer of her senior year of high school for a short-term study abroad program in New York City. She recalled, “I felt like, ‘This is where I belong!’ and was completely fascinated by the U.S.” Then and there, she decided to return to the U.S. After graduating from high school, she worked as a staff member at the ECC English school, assisting people who wanted to study abroad, but day by day, she felt more strongly that she should be one of them, and decided to advance her education in the U.S. At the age of 23, Akane enrolled in a community college in Los Angeles. After graduation, she married Fumiaki Mashimo, a Japanese artist she met there, and decided to live permanently in the United States. Fumiaki works as a special effects artist for films in Hollywood, and he joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the same year about two decades ago.

The Path to Kimono

Although she had participated in a free trial lesson for the proper putting on and wearing of kimono in Japan, she had to give it up because the lesson fees were too high. Her priority at the time was to save money for her education in the United States. Even so, she never lost her interest in kimono, and finally had the time and financial freedom when her first child started attending preschool. Akane began attending a kimono dressing class in Little Tokyo, and began attending a tea ceremony class taught by the same teacher. “I thought that by taking tea ceremony classes, I would have more opportunities to wear kimono,” she said. She even started wearing kimono when she went to coffee shops just because she felt like it.

After attending kimono dressing classes for about four years and learning about the fun and depth of kimono, Akane developed a strong desire to make it her career. So, she temporarily returned to Japan and went to Kyoto, the mecca of kimono, where there are many famous kimono manufacturers and wholesalers, and took private lessons at the Kyoto Kimono Institute for four and a half months. At the end of her studies, she obtained a kimono dressing certificate.

Establishing a Kimono Dressing School

Akane returned to Los Angeles with a variety of plans for the future and in high spirits, but soon after, she got pregnant with her second child, and found herself overwhelmed with child-rearing duties. That was the same time the world was plunged into the COVID 19 pandemic as well. With human contact so restricted, she was unable to engage in any kimono activities at all.

It was three years later, in the fall of 2022, that an acquaintance approached Akane, and asked to be taught how to dress in kimono. This friend was so impressed by Akane’s knowledge and teaching style that she suggested Akane offer kimono-wearing lessons. Encouraged by this positive experience, Akane rented a room in a church in the Japanese community in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles, and start offering classes. She recruited students and soon had five; this class was also her first step toward realizing her dream of making kimono her career.

The training started with finding a kimono for a student who did not own one, but the more she taught, the more excited she grew that she was really helping her students become qualified kimono stylists. In spring 2024, she returned to Kyoto and completed an instructor training course, and she is now able to issue certificates in Los Angeles as a branch school of the Kyoto Kimono Institute.

Becoming an entrepreneur

In the fall of 2022, after opening her kimono dressing school, Akane started another new business. Together with her husband Fumiaki, she launched a photography studio called WakaWakka Kimono and Photo Studio. The main services include kimono dressing, rentals, and photography. The name “Waka” is Akane’s pen name for calligraphy, and it means ‘circle.’ Akane makes the most of the kimono dressing techniques she has mastered over the past 10 years to provide high quality services.

In addition, Akane has a beginner’s certificate in calligraphy and has also studied tea ceremony and flower arrangement. In her home, her husband has a handmade, Japanese-style tatami room, which they rent out as a space for tea ceremonies.

LA Kimono Club

The LA Kimono Club, now in its 24th year, aims to provide opportunities for people to become familiar with kimono and promote traditional Japanese culture. As president of this club, Akane organizes various events to promote the beauty of kimono. In particular, the New Year’s kimono contest held in Little Tokyo provides a stage for kimono enthusiasts of all ages, races, and genders. The club also organizes kimono shows, cultural workshops, and other events throughout the year. Akane is passionate about sharing the kimono lifestyle with others, and by carefully dressing in beautiful and traditional Japanese kimono fashions, the clubs let Los Angeles residents to enjoy traditional Japanese culture. Akane’s husband was a past president of the club, and the couple’s leadership is still highly regarded as the club grows and succeeds.

Through Kimono, “I fell in love with Japan”

Since she was a child, Akane had the tendency to express her opinions clearly, which left her feeling uncomfortable in Japanese society, where people often treated her as an oddball. On the other hand, she felt comfortable and at ease in individualistic American society, which accepts “unusual people.” However, now that 17 years have passed since she came to the U.S., she has come to appreciate the beautiful traditional culture of Japan through the kimono. “I am someone who left Japan thinking that I could not live in Japanese society. But because I rediscovered the kimono, I fell in love with Japan,” Akane said. “In that sense, I am glad to be Japanese now.”

She is a reliable presence in the Japanese community in Los Angeles, appearing in kimono at events and venues focused on Japanese women, and she even was stationed at a booth for the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) during a major travel industry convention.

Career Advice

For those who are thinking about finding a job or starting a new career, Akane recommended, “Find a job that makes the most of what you love. If you don’t love it, it won’t last. I think the happiest way to live is to find something you can do every day and never get tired of it, and make it your job. I would like the younger generation who have graduated from university in Japan and are thinking about finding a job to find their own path without being carried away by their surroundings. I would like them to think about what they really want to do and find it, instead of job-hunting themselves because of what is going on in the world or because other people are working at a company.”

Future Goals

In addition to raising three children and running her business, Akane also is currently serving as president of the LA Kimono Club. She is so busy that she sometimes feels like her head is about to explode. Every day, she is acutely aware of the difficulty of single-handedly managing a wide range of tasks, including planning and organizing events and training. How to improve this situation is a challenge for the future. And while she is striving to spread Japanese traditions through kimono to American society, she is also working positively to promote the “Kimono Lifestyle,” in which people wear kimono casually without being bound by rules. She wears kimono with a pair of boots, for example. “I want more people to wear kimono. I want more people, especially Japanese people, to wear kimono. If Japanese people don’t wear kimono, it won’t happen.”

As a future goal, Akane hopes to bring to Los Angeles the juni-hitoe, a kimono that has been worn by royal families in Japan. The Kyoto Kimono Institute is a school specializing in juni-hitoe, and is one of the few schools in Japan that has a set of juni-hitoe. Each set of juni-hitoe costs about 2 million yen ($20,000), so it is not easy to bring them overseas, but she has a dream to make it happen someday.

While traveling back and forth between Japan and the U.S., Akane has boldly fulfilled many dreams with passion and has brought a lot of joy to American society through kimono. We look forward to the day when we will be able to see beautiful juni-hitoe in the U.S.!

Related sites:

Wakawakka Kimono & Photo studio

Instagram @wakawakkakimono

LA Kimono Club Website




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