Cape (kappa)
Cotton (homespun); some paper backing; silk cord
Stenciled, woven

Capes were not originally part of the Japanese wardrobe, and never played a very large role in Japanese dress, but had some popularity during the Meiji era. The name kappa comes from the Portuguese word for cape. A number of seventeenth century Japanese paintings show contingents of luxuriously dressed Portuguese merchants wearing capes as they walked through the few sections of Japan they were allowed access to during the tightly controlled Tokugawa shogunate.

This cape has two layers: the outer of stripes, the reverse of fine stenciling. In some capes, a layer of wax paper was inserted between the inner and outer, so the cape could repel water. This cape does not appear to have a middle layer.

Above and below, close-ups of the outer and reverse.

The closures are also western-influenced. Note the sturdy Japanese paper under the cord closure.

Below, the two layers were sewn together, and trim placed around the edges.

Early Portuguese merchants in short capes as depicted by a Japanese painter.

Horse trapping
Tsutsugaki paste resist

This would have been draped over a horse’s rump while it was walking in a public procession. The four characters that surround the wisteria crest read (top to bottom and right to left) fumi uma gomen – please excuse the passing horse. Inside the wisteria crest is the character mine, meaning peak or ridge, as in a mountain. Most likely this is the owner’s name, or part of it.

The designs on the sides are of chrysanthemums floating on water, a motif with a very long history. The details of the petals have been painted in with sumi ink.

For those interested in further reading, antique dealer Lisa Ryan has written a very informative article, Japanese Horse Trappings, on the topic. Click here to link to it. In the format in which it appears, many of the photographs cannot be seen, but a Google search of Japanese horse trappings (or uma no haragake) will turn up other examples.

This character, with its flowing mane, four hooves and flashing tail, is very evocative of a horse.

Wedding futon cover, four panels
Cotton (homespun)
Tsutsugaki paste resist

This wedding futon cover depicts the scented cypress fans of the Heian period aristocracy, which were considered auspicious symbols.  The four vertical panels have been so expertly dyed and pieced together that the seams in the left two and center fans are nearly undetectable.  The seam that bisects the top right fan is betrayed by the slight mismatch in the left and right sides of the slats of the fan.

The backing has been removed, and bits of cotton wadding can still be seen clinging to the undyed reverse side.

A few of the original quilting knots are still firmly attached to the material.

Kariginu (“hunting cloak”)
Stenciled or block printed (?)

The kariginu was originally part of a hunting costume for the Heian aristocracy. Over the centuries it underwent many variations, and is now relegated to very formal ceremonies and the theater.

This kariginu was probably used for theatrical productions in the countryside, perhaps during festivals. Traditionally, kariginu sleeves were very large, as these are, but as suggested in the photo below, there are visible seams a few inches above the bottom all across the front of both sleeves, showing a lack of material, or unprofessional planning. The very busy pattern prevents those seams from being obtrusive.

The entire garment was hand sewn. This kind of cotton print was called sarasa. Sarasa was originally imported from India and Indonesia, and so was very rare and highly prized in Japan. This sarasa is almost certainly Japanese-made, but its use in the kariginu was probably an indication to the audience that the wearer was a person of rank and wealth who had access to exotic material.

The round neck is completely out of keeping with standard Japanese clothing. The Heian kataginu was modeled after Chinese garments, and closed at the side of the neck. Side closures gave rise to rounded necklines. This simple garment has no closure, but retains the round neck of the original kariginu.

A fiber close-up.

In this small detail, there is a small wedge where the neck seam has come open, and it is possible to compare the original lighter brighter red to the red that has been exposed to the elements for decades.

Nagajuban (long under-kimono)
Stenciled; kata yuzen and hand-applied colors

In the second half of the 19th century, foreign circuses began traveling to Japan. In 1886, a triptych ukiyoe by Chikanobu depicts the Chiarini Circus in Japan, with horses, tigers, a lion, an ostrich and an elephant. This nagajuban features various circus scenes with what appear to be westerners in western costume.

One gets the impression that putting this unusual theme on a nagajuban may have been a way to salvage as much as possible from a larger length of cloth that suffered some damage.

The sketches are repeated, but the color details have been applied by hand, and show minor differences.

Above, it can be seen that the paste resist for the stencil was applied slightly unevenly. Below, Chikanobu’s circus triptych. Chikanobu’s drawing style was popular during the Meiji period; the drawing style on the nagajuban seems to place it in the very early 20th century.

Momohiki (trousers)
Sashiko, paste resist stenciling

This is a pair of well worn workman’s trousers.

As with many company-related clothes, these are stenciled with part of the company name. In this case, the nearly illegible name is Mae. Formally written , it is interesting to see what liberties the designer took with the character to make a graphically arresting design while stuffing it into the diamond shaped frame, rather than the usual square frame used for characters.

Here, as shown in previous textiles, the design is rendered, right side up, upside down, and backward, so the material is more versatile, and has no single correct direction. Above, the leg, with densely stitched horizontal sashiko. Although the legs have insets to accommodate the thighs, the curve above seems to have been made by the wearer, and not by the cut of the trousers. Below, part of the hip, with well spaced diagonal sashiko.

This close-up of the inner front waist band, below, shows the unpatterned indigo lining, but also shows that the waist band seems to have been taken from a random remnant. Note the strip resisted white, which bears no relation to the other designs in the trousers.

Yoshino ori (Yoshino weave)

Yoshino refers to undulating weaves, such as that shown here, that noticeably expand and compress weft threads and alternate colors. The threads are generally rough textured, not smooth.

The obi shown is a hanhaba, or half width, obi. The rough material and narrow width are not used for very formal occasions.

Readers who can explain the Yoshino ori process are encouraged to write in.

Silk, cotton (lining)
Stenciled wefts (meisen)

The direct stenciling of chemical colors onto silk fibers developed over time into a very fine and precise technique. This bright and amusing kimono is an earlier piece, and lacks sophistication in technique.

Stenciling might done on warps only, on wefts only, and on warps and wefts. This kimono is stenciled only on its thick wefts. All the fine warp threads are black, and recede into the background.

As in previous examples of meisen and kasuri, no two repeats are exactly identical. Compare the heads of two of the birds, below.

In the above head, the wefts that make up the black outline of the bird’s head are fairly well aligned, with the exception of the eyeball, for a crisp picture. In the head below, the wefts have not been aligned to the same degree, resulting in a blurrier image.

Cartoon for banner
Hand painted

This cartoon of a family of cranes is a life-sized draft for a banner, possibly for Boys’ Day. The cartoon is so large that it is broken down into two photographs.

Boys’ Day banners tend to have very clear masculine messages. The message here is not so much male-oriented as family oriented, since the two cranes are shown with their nest of five chicks. The parents hover protectively over the babies, who appear content and well fed. Cranes were traditionally said to live a thousand years, so there are the additional underlying themes of longevity, continuity of the family line, and by extension, fertility.

Interestingly, on the reverse side of this color cartoon is an unfinished cartoon outlined in sumi. Thematically, the two are completely different, the black and white cartoon returning to masculine themes, depicting soldiers.

The uniforms worn by the soldiers in the cartoon were current during The Sino – Japanese War of (1894 – 1895) and the Russo – Japanese War (1904 – 1905), which helps to put an approximate age to the cartoon.

Below is a photograph of Count Nogi, a general in the Russo-Japanese War, whose highly decorated uniform echoes the uniform of the man on horseback in the top half of the cartoon. (Image from

Here the hats, unadorned jackets, rucksacks and leggings in the woodblock print are very similar to those worn in the bottom half of the black and white cartoon.

Woman’s kimono
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

In meisen kimono, there was a brief trend for making narrow strips of designs, placing them vertically on the kimono as foreground and clearly delineating them from a more subdued background.  Another kimono in this style can be seen here.

The abstract modernist designs in the strips all contain straight lines. They draw from the striped background, but then go off in completely new directions.

(A similar design trend in meisen was to scatter white rectangles across the material at regular intervals and fill them with repeated designs. Several, such as this one, have appeared in Daily Japanese Textile.)


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