Omoyamairi (?) (ceremonial kimono for infant’s first presentation at temple)
Silk, silk waste padding
Katayuzen (application of colors through chemical dye-imbued paste resist)

During the Edo period, one of the ways the shogunate was able to control the far flung provinces was to demand that provincial lords spend prolonged periods of time in Edo (present day Tokyo). When the lords returned to their provinces, their wives and heirs stayed in Edo, effectively as hostages. This system was called sankin kotai, or alternate attendance. The sankin kotai system necessitated great, lengthy processions on foot (since only the most elite had horses) from the lord’s province to Edo. The processions alone were very costly, since they had to be in keeping with the lord’s status, and helped prevent the amassing of sufficient wealth to fund a rebellion against the shogunate.

This robe depicts the sankin kotai which, despite its repressive purpose, was an impressive and highly coordinated event. The procession shown here is executed by so-called karako (“Chinese children”). Karako were a favored design subject, and appropriate for a child’s robe. The sankin kotai is also an appropriate subject, evocative as it is of ceremony, duty, wealth and status. In the center of the procession below, we see palanquin bearers, who would be carrying a person of high status within. Before them are standard bearers, and behind them are porters carrying supplies. The protrusion of the standards into the stripe above helps unify the design.

Many of the design elements of this 20th century piece portray the procession fairly accurately, but there is some humor as well. The karako automatically add an element of humor. Notice too that the lord on horseback is riding a toy horse on wheels. The designer has made an effort to differentiate hairdos, clothing patterns and hand gestures.

The advent of chemical dyes allowed the development of kata yuzen, in which the paste resist itself is dyed the desired color. The colors penetrate the fabric when the material is steamed.

On the front of the robe, the two ties are decorated with a talismanic design. Underneath the embroidery is a paper core for extra strength and stability.

Note the slight differences in the reins, eyes and manes of the two horses below.

Small details such as these were probably applied by hand, so they are similar but not identical.