Girl’s kimono
Silk, cotton lining
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

In Japanese design tradition, the tortoise is usually paired with the crane, as both are symbols of longevity. The rabbit is best known either as the rice cake pounding rabbit in the moon (rather than the western man in the moon), or as the White Rabbit of Inaba, from a legend recorded in the Kojiki, which dates back to the eighth century. When the tortoise is paired with the hare, however, the reference shifts to the west, and Aesop’s fables. Aesop’s fables were brought to Japan by Christian missionaries around the year 1600, and so are well known to the Japanese, although they are far less frequently the subject of Japanese textile design. The flags in this kimono are interesting. They signify the finish line, and the tortoise’s victory, but they also look like the Japanese flag. Is there a subtle political message in the design?

This kimono comes with a matching haori, not shown here. A strong horizontal fold line can be seen near the kimono’s waist, as well as a vertical fold at each shoulder, indicating that excess material was once stitched down, then let out when the child grew bigger. The scribbled tortoise and hare have a very mid-century feel to them.