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A composite image shows the kimonos created for (clockwise from top left) Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Photo: Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project

Olympic kimonos showcase Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia’s cultures – and many more besides

  • More than 300 Japanese designers worked on the 213 kimonos for some six years, with each full set costing about US$18,200 to make
  • Every team competing at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics is represented with a unique design as part of the Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project
A towering Merlion looks out over a stylised Singapore skyline below a field of hybrid orchids. Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers peek through a vibrant swoop of multicoloured flowers and fluttering butterflies. India’s famed Taj Mahal appears in a splash of water squirted from the trunk of a painted elephant.
All these scenes, and many more besides, can be found on the more than 200 custom-designed kimonos created by the Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project for every team competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Seven kimonos for countries not at the Games were also designed.

More than 300 Japanese designers worked on the 213 garments for some six years, with each full set – comprising the kimono, obi (sash) and accessories – costing about 2 million yen (US$18,200) to make using traditional hand weaving and dyeing techniques.

A model wears the Philippines‘ design created for the Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project. Photo: Kengo Maeda / Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project via Facebook

Nobumichi Tejima, who led the project, said the designers had to gain a deep understanding of each place’s history, culture, motifs and landmarks to create garments that were accurate and respectful, following discussions with ambassadors and – in some cases – several visits to the places in question.

Singapore’s kimono design – first unveiled at the country’s Tokyo embassy in 2019 – features the city state’s skyline, with Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer clearly visible, alongside the iconic Merlion.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who saw the design in-person during a trip to Osaka for the 2019 G20 Summit, described it in a Facebook post at the time as a “beautiful blend of exquisite Japanese workmanship and the iconic sights and symbols of Singapore”.

Malaysia’s kimono features the star, stripes and moon from the country’s flag – as well as the Petronas Twin Towers – and is inspired by traditional batik patterns, according to its designer, Takehana Sensho, who worked with 40 students from Fukuoka Prefectural Kurume High School to create the garment.

A visit to the Philippines inspired designer Hiroshi Nakamachi to use delicate palm fronds as the basis for his creation, with the theme for the garment “drawn from the sound of the wind” and the “light of the sun”, according to the Imagine Oneworld website.
India’s kimono design, meanwhile, was a collaboration with fourth grade students from Taimei Elementary School in Tokyo, and incorporates the Taj Mahal as well as elephants, peacocks and lotus motifs.
A model wears Indonesia's kimono at a catwalk show in 2018. Photo: Kengo Maeda / Kimono Project via Facebook
The 213 kimonos were initially set to be displayed during the opening of the delayed Tokyo Games, but will now make their exhibition debut at the Osaka Expo 2025 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indonesia’s kimono design – created by Okaju, one of the oldest kimono companies in Japan – references the colours of the country’s flag and incorporates a map of the archipelago nation as well as a visualisation of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world.

Shigeo Okajima, Okaju’s president, approached a batik designer in Indonesia to help create the kimono and the effort certainly seems to have paid off with social media users describing the end result as “very beautiful”.

On Twitter, the #KimonoProject hashtag was widely used by people sharing some of their favourite designs and expressing support for the project.

Hungarian diplomat Katalin Bogyay shared pictures of her country’s kimono design and described it as “really beautiful: historical, traditional”, with its representations of architectural splendour and folk art patterns.

One Canadian Twitter user said they were “absolutely in love with Canada’s design”, which draws inspiration from its national symbol – the maple leaf – and the Canadian Rockies.

Designed by Kisaburo Ogawa, who specialises in a type of traditional Japanese textile known as kenjo hataka-ori, the Canadian kimono uses colours from the country’s flag combined with visualisations of the Niagara Falls and the northern lights.

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Josiah Chua, a Singaporean fashion stylist, said he was a fan of the designs for Singapore and Malaysia as “floral motifs and bright colours are a big favourite of mine”.

The project was an “amazing opportunity to showcase each country’s signature icons and motifs in a kimono”, he said.

Echoing his sentiments, fashion designer Keith Png, who has designed outfits for celebrities such as Zhang Ziyi and Lin Chi Ling, described the whole project as “bold” and “challenging”.

“I like the idea of taking something so iconic such as the kimono and customising it for different countries,” he said. “It reflects what the Olympics is all about: unifying the world through sports, but in this instance, through the kimono.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Olympics kimono project brings nations together