Woman’s naga juban (underkimono)
Asa chijimi; silk ro collar
Hand painting

This woman’s naga (long) juban (underkimono) is hand painted in sumi ink with the design of a ghost, identifiable by her lack of feet. Her way lighted by her lantern and a will o’ the wisp, she floats through a forlorn landscape of human bones and tall grasses, all common props in Japanese ghost stories.

This might have been a special order for a courtesan, possibly a rendering of a contemporary story. Japanese ghost stories often contain elements of betrayal of a woman by her lover, so this might have been a subtle message (‘Treat me well if you know what’s good for you…’) from the wearer to the person privileged to have a leisurely view of this woman’s underkimono.

Ghost stories became a favorite theme in Japanese popular art and literature of the 19th century, as attested to in a series of eerie prints by master ukiyo-e artists Hokusai and Yoshitoshi, and in Kwaidan, Lafcadio Hearn’s translations of well known Japanese ghost stories, published in 1904.

Traditional Japanese garments show a sensitivity to seasonality. The material of this 20th century naga juban is a light cotton appropriate to the summer. The theme is literally intended to send a chill down the spine, a welcome and witty diversion in the summer heat. The only color used in this piece is pink, and that very sparingly. Most of the pink is in the ghost’s lips, adding to the spooky atmosphere.

The wrinkled effect is achieved by combining heavily twisted weft threads with untwisted warp threads.