Komebukuro (rice bag) for gifts or donations of rice
Silk chirimen, homespun cotton lining, paper, gold foil, kinran (paper backed gilt thread)
Kirihame (applique), hand painting

The maker of this bag used the round shape to create a single panoramic view. At first, Mt. Fuji is seen in the distance, half hidden in rich pink mist, with a large old pine tree in the foreground. As the bag is moved, two human figures (one shown below) enter the scene.

Flecks of gold leaf are used variously to represent branches and knots or moss on the pine tree, as well as stones on the ground. The background material photographs as blue, but is actually a vibrant purple.

Child’s kimono
Dyed, hand painted

While some infants’ clothes were made from fabrics specifically designed for children, this tiny kimono was almost certainly refashioned from the lining of an adult man’s haori. The hand painted and signed design on the back depicts a scene from Yoro no Taki, a traditional tale of filial piety in which a dutiful son goes in search of sake to fulfill his father’s wish. The parents of the child who dressed their son in this robe were expressing the hope that their son, too, would grow up to be virtuous.

The artist took the time to add barely perceptible white pigment to the filial son’s face and hands. Rather than being cross-hatched by warps and wefts, the young man’s skin appears more realistic with the warps and wefts smoothed over by the pigment. This hand painted fabric includes the artist’s name and seal.

The semamori on the back appears to be two criss-crossing pine needles. The stitch work in the so-called tortoiseshell design that anchors the ties at the back is not merely decorative. According to Japanese mythology, the tortoise is said to live for ten thousand years. Thus, the design is a coded prayer for the child’s long life.

Boy’s lined kimono
Double kasuri

Many examples of Japanese kasuri feature two designs, which may be shown right side up, upside down and in reverse, giving the appearance of additional design elements while reusing the same one. When the alphabet appears in western textiles, the designer typically chooses at least the first three letters, probably because westerners think in terms of their ABCs. The Japanese designer’s intention was to create a novel textile and to work within the standard of two design elements. The western eye looks for additional letters; to the Japanese eye, the design is complete.

While the two As appear rightside up and upside down, the horizontal lines in the same two boxes do not change at all.

Child’s festival happi coat
Katazome (stenciled)

Japanese children are welcome participants in all aspects of life. This small jacket has the word ‘Festival’ in on its back, and ‘Children’s Group’ down the collar in the front. Tucks at both shoulders hold excess material in place, so the happi can see some additional use even if the child has grown by the time of the next festival. The lion and peony motif is often associated with the Noh drama “Shakkyo” (“Stone Bridge”), a play performed for celebratory occasions.

A comparison of the face and reverse simultaneously shows that this happi was stenciled on one side, then dipped in the dye bath. The outside has a clear design where the paste resist was, while the reverse is all indigo-colored.

Underkimono (?)
Hand painted with sumi, dyes and pigments; rice paste resist

This is one of a matched pair of kimonos for a boy’s omiyamairi (infant’s first shrine presentation) ceremony. This less elaborate piece is probably the underkimono. (See the April 20 post for the other half of the matched set.) Traditionally, the 47 ronin (masterless samurai) of the story Chushingura are depicted wearing saw-tooth patterned black and white coats. Here is the same saw-tooth pattern in white and beige.

The allusion made in the first robe to Oishi Kuranosuke, the courageous leader of the ronin, is continued here in the form of Oishi’s futatomoe (two commas) family crest, scattered among the saw-tooth points. Interestingly, also scattered among the saw-tooth points is the infant’s family crest. The implicit wish in the design seems to be that the child will grow up to be strong and virtuous like Oishi.

Like the previous robe, this robe has embroidery at the ties, but slightly less elaborate. Unlike the previous robe, this one has no osemamori stitching at the back.

Woodblock print depicting a scene from the story Chushingura.

Hand painted with sumi, dyes and pigments; rice paste resist

This eccentric omiyamairi (kimono for infant’s first shrine presentation) depicts a scene from Chushingura (The Tale of the 47 Ronin [Masterless Samurai]), the classic 18th century true story of loyalty and revenge. During the years that Japan was ruled by the samurai class, the ideals of the warrior were key cultural and philosophical precepts. The 47 ronin came to be models of warrior virtues. Oishi Kuranosuke, the robe’s central blindfolded figure (here partially obscured by the paper shoji), is the leader of the ronin.  Though apparently enjoying himself at the pleasure quarters, he is actually scheming to lull his enemies into a false sense of security so the ronin can exact their revenge when it is least expected.

The two lines of thread, one hanging straight down, the other angled to the left, are called osemamori, or ‘back protectors’, and are believed to protect the infant.

The embroidery that decorates the ties is not unique to this piece. Books called semoncho demonstrated, on sturdy paper and with actual embroidery thread, a variety of designs to choose from.

This robe is one of a two-piece matching set. The matching piece will be posted tomorrow.

Asa (?)
Matsubayose technique

This light and airy open weave black hitoe is almost transparent. Untwisted warps combined with highly twisted wefts help give it its three dimensional texure.

Matsubayose literally means ‘pine needle gathering’, and refers to the alternate bunching and spreading of sections of weft threads to create a chiaroscuro effect. On this hitoe, the threads were gathered by machine, but originally matsubayose was done by hand, using pine needles.

Daily Japanese Textile is indebted to the late Tomoyuki Yamanobe, Curator Emeritus of the Textile Department at The Tokyo National Museum, for much of this information.

Man’s festival jacket (?)
Asa (homespun)
Katazome (stenciling), pigments

This is probably a festival jacket, and was probably made in multiples to be worn by a particular group of people as they paraded in the festival. The character repeated in positive and negative is the first character in Edo, the old name of Tokyo, and means inlet or bay.  (The three dots on the left are indicative of water-themed words.)

This jacket is unlined, so it is possible to compare the face and reverse of the material. In the photo below, the face has been dyed, but the reverse has not.

Silk, metallic thread
Jacquard weave

In the same way that mid-century kimonos had modernist themes, so did obis. Pitchers were a popular theme in cubist still lifes, and the popularity of that theme is reflected here. One way this designer skillfully interpreted cubist shadows was by varying the density of black, white and red threads.

The designer also achieved changes in surface texture and depth by varying the threads. This obi is woven with a combination of thin, thick, twisted and straight threads.

Silk thread on wooden spools

The Daily Japanese Textile of April 15 features a kimono with a pattern of spools of thread. Today’s entry focuses on two vintage spools of thread from Nishijin, Japan’s premier textile manufacturer. Western spools are round; like western spools, Japanese spools have an anchoring hole at the center, but differ in having four spokes, forming an X shape, onto which the thread is wound.

The two types of thread have very different textures – one very rough and thick, the other very smooth and fine.


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