Infant’s kimono
Cotton, red silk embroidery thread
Sashiko and chain stitch embroidery

A variety of traditional designs have been executed in sashiko (embroidery characterized by large running stitches, often used to stitch layers together) on this hand spun and hand woven infant’s robe.

Among the designs included are the auspicious seven treasures lozenge, the hemp leaf, lightning, waves, braided fences, and other traditional patterns.

Three designs that appear to be crests on the chest and back are actually talismans.

Kimono might have no crests, one crest (just below the back of the neck), three (below the back of the neck and on the back of each sleeve), or five (as before, plus two at the left and right chest), depending on the degree of formality. This little kimono does not adhere to those standards. Additionally, if they were crests, all three would be identical. These talismans depict plum, paulownia and chrysanthemum, and are stitched in red, for further protective value. They are also the only portions stitched with silk, underscoring their importance.

Hitoe (unlined summer kimono)

One of the seven treasures is the kozuchi – the lucky mallet. This hitoe is decorated with with mallets in streams of water, defined by several types of shibori in an interesting color combination – a very deep red and a very delicate celadon green (which barely shows up in these photos).

Silk, cotton (lining)
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

This kimono fully embraces the abstract expressionist movement.

On a micro-level, some resemblance to the work of Clyfford Still can be seen. Still specialized in vertically oriented work, with large fields of black interrupted by areas of contrasting color that almost appeared to have been torn away from the canvas.

Compare the above small detail with Still’s 1960-R, below.

Cut Paper

This stencil reads “Ryogoku” (両国, or both provinces), using the older and more complex form of the second character. Ryogoku, an area in central Tokyo, is best known as the heart of the world of sumo.

In the close-up below, the blank square is completely free-floating, held in place by fine threads sandwiched between the top and bottom layers of paper.

Since most commercial garments (such as hanten) are stenciled with a personal name or company name, while this is stenciled with a geographical name, it seems possible that this stencil was created for use on a community-oriented garment. It might have been intended for a hanten to be worn at a citywide festival by inhabitants of the Ryogoku area, for example.

This stencil can no longer be used as it has lost a section near its lower left hand corner (see top photograph).

When held up to the light, extensive if faint Japanese script in sumi ink can be seen going in several directions (not shown here), indicating that this paper may originally have been used for a completely different purpose.

Boy’s kimono

This kind of print is called niko niko (“smile”) kasuri, and refers to printed cloth made to look like kasuri while avoiding its high cost. Niko niko is often brown, as here, or dark red, and often features a repeating cartoon-like image.

In this case, the two images are Urashima Taro and Otohime. In this folk tale, Urashima Taro rescues a turtle being teased by some boys. In return for his kindness, Taro is taken by the turtle to her underwater kingdom.  She then reveals her true identity: she is the sea princess Otohime.

Below, Taro astride the turtle on their way to her kingdom.

Here, Princess Otohime appears in human form, wearing the hand-covering sleeves of the Chinese elite.

The hexagonal shapes scattered throughout are called kikko moyo, or tortoise shell motif. Kikko moyo is popular in Japanese design as a shorthand for the turtle, which was said to live ten thousand years, and so was a symbol of longevity. Here the motif is doubly apt. It is an appropriate motif for a small boy, whose family would want him to live a long life, and at the same time it reinforces the Urashima Taro narrative.

cocktail kimono Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4937

Silk, cotton (lining)
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

On the website Obsessionistas, Haruko Watanabe, owner of Gallery Tsumugi and dealer in vintage Japanese textiles, is quoted as saying that “meisen kimonos were worn by the women who needed to look beautiful and stand out such as actresses, bar hostesses, women engaged in show business and so on”.   This kimono was almost certainly worn by a bar hostess.  Every design on the kimono reminds the viewer to partake in the pleasures of a 1950s – 1960s bar.  The very western bar accoutrements, as well as the unmistakably western treatment of the designs, served to underscore the sophistication that attached to cocktail culture in Japan at the time.

There is a colorful chip and dip server,

martini meisen - chip n dip bowl  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4642









a snack bowl, with the popular undulating rim of the period,

martini meisen - wobbly bowl Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4641









A double jigger (left) and an articulated cocktail shaker (right),

martini meisen - double jigger, shaker  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4640









And the all-important martini, in its distinctively shaped glass, with requisite green olive garnish. The chunky, cartoonish lines reflect the prevailing artistic style of the time.

martini meisen - martini, double jigger Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4637









Interestingly, a closer look at the kimono reveals one additional reference to western cocktail culture: radiating white waves mimic the wood grain wall paneling of the period.

martini meisen - close up  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4635










This still from Akiro Kurosawa’s 1963 movie High Low demonstrates the role of cocktail culture in upward social mobility. Toshiro Mifune (seated) plays a top executive of a shoe manufacturing firm. While he sits discussing business in his home with requisite cigarette and drink in hand, his right hand man stands next to two other icons of martini culture: the cocktail cart and the ice bucket.

High and Low - Mifune - martini accoutrements - bar cart, ice bucket... 1963  6.05.09 PM

In the United States, June 19 is National Martini Day.

Synthetic (?), metallic thread
Stenciled warps, hand tie-dyed wefts, supplementary wefts

The distinctive Charles Rennie Macintosh rose appears in many Japanese garments during the first third of the 20th century.  In this example, to put a different slant on the motif, the designer dispensed with most of the roses’ natural curved lines, and replaced them with hexagons and pentagons. The roses seem to be piled like precariously stacked boxes.

Metallic threads catch and reflect light as the hitoe moves.

Below, the supplementary metallic threads are seen from the reverse side of the fabric. They are inserted in the weft briefly, and then allowed to float on the surface until the next point where they will be inserted.

Komebukuro (rice bag), for donation of rice to temple or shrine
Chirimen silk, brocade, metallic thread, cotton (lining), paper (backing)
Applique, handpainting, embroidery

This hexagonal rice bag has four appliqued and painted motifs around its side and a fifth on its base. A great deal of care has been taken in the making of the bag. Small pieces of the correct color fabric are cut and then sewn to the appropriate size and shape to create the desired parts of the designs. These are then handpainted to fill in what the fabric alone cannot do – facial details, folds and shades in clothing, shadows on land and water, textures on tree bark, stripes on the tiger, etc.

Above, the base depicts a handsome young Heian period aristocrat, most likely Prince Genji.

The lion and peony are a reference to the celebratory Noh play Shakkyo.

The tiger and bamboo are traditionally pictured together.

The small Chinese boy’s clothing has been cut and shaped in elaborate detail, and his expression and posture give him individuality.

Most of the fabrics used to make this bag were chemically dyed. Several brilliant shades of pink and red, and generous dabs of white paint, were used to bring out the brilliance of the much beloved peony.

Man’s haori
Stenciled, with handpainted detail work in sumi and gold paint (?)

Inside this somber, black, five crested formal man’s haori

is a raccoon dog (tanuki)

who cannot hold his liquor (or holds too much of it), but has just left his local liquor store with a full jug.

His tattered parasol

is probably a reflection of his glory days, flecked as it is with gold.

The exterior of this man’s formal haori is all sobriety. The interior, which would only have been seen by very few people, reveals the wearer’s playful side. In Japanese lore, raccoon dogs are often depicted as having a fondness for sake, and it is not uncommon for Japanese clothes, drab to all outward appearances, to have luxurious or otherwise unexpected linings.  This custom dates back to the Edo period, in  reaction to strict sumptuary laws suppressing conspicuous consumption.

Yukata (informal unlined summer kimono)
Itajimezome (clamp resist)

This subtle design of small squares is deceptive. At a distance, its regularity may give the impression of a print; closer and its feathered edges may give the impression of shibori, but it was made by folding the material countless times, then applying strategically located square shaped pressure, and then immersing the material in a dye bath. Where the square shaped pressure was applied, dye was prevented from saturating the material, leaving the blank spaces.

The slight undulation in the photo above derives from the undulation of the hanging fabric, but the varying distance between the squares is due to a slight unevenness in the measurement of the fabric as it was folded.

Above, there are none of the telltale puckers or small needle holes indicatative of shibori.