Saturday, May 25, 2019

History of the Kimono[1]
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

introduction[1]
The original model for theJapanese kimono, which has undergone many changes in its form from the eight century, was the official costume of Chinese nobility and scholar-bureaucrats. It was a long robe in a single piece.

During the 8th century, the earliest forms of the kimono were influenced by the traditional Han Chinese clothing.

However, common people in China, who had to work, converted the costume into a two-piece garment that provided more mobility. The Japanese followed suit and even when Westernization increased greatly in the second half of the nineteenth century, the traditional form of workers' clothing remained largely unchanged.

The wearing of the kimono (which translates as clothing) is both a state of mind as well as making a statement of dress. Grace and serenity accompany its presence and the beauty it invokes in our minds leaves a lasting image of the essence of Japan while imprinting its elegance silhouette on our memories.

Semiformal yuzen kimono.


The History of the Kimono[1]
The silk kimono, is a highly prized heirloom, being passed down from generation to generation. It's unchanging style retains its beauty from year to year. Great care is taken in choosing the fabric from which it is made. The size and style of the motif, as well as the quality and color of the fabric, indicate the age, status and taste of its original owner. Bright colors and large motifs are worn by young girls. Their long sleeved kimono (called furisode provide a great contrast with the subdued colors and smaller decorations of a married woman's short-sleeved kimono (kosode).

These children have been dressed up for the celebration of Shichigosan. The girls are wearing Yuzen kimono (furisode) and sandals of gold brocade. The boy’s crested coat (haori) perfectly matches his kimono, which is a woven patterned pleated skirt (hakama).

A married's woman's short-sleeved kimono.
A favorite Kimono fabric is the very comfortable and well sought after Oshima tsumugi.

The kimono has a long history, reflecting influences felt from the cultures of India, Korea, and SouthEast Asia. While the early textile history of Japan is misty, archaeologists have determined that prior to 300 BC, wood or vegetable fibers were used to make fabrics which were fashioned into belted two-piece garments. There is also evidence that silk was used in western Japan as early as the fourth century. Signalling the advent of Japan's written history, the Asuka period (sixth century) brought trade between Japan and two of its neighbours, China and Korea. From these exchanges came two valuable imports: clothing from China, including the basic kimono form; and the Buddhist religion - which had tremendous influence on Japanese art and textiles - from Korea. The continuation of this exchanged with China during the next two centuries brought elaborate textiles to Japan in the Nara period (seventh and eighth centuries.

The illustration to the left shows how kimono design has changed over the centuries. From around the Nara Period (710-94), a garment called a kosode (small sleeves) was worn, first as underclothes and later as an outer garment, by both women and men. The garment became known as a kimono from the 18th Century.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan during the Heian period (794 - 1185). The aristocrats whose culture flourished in that era took a great interest in clothing. The junihitoe (twelve unlined robes), the official costume of the noble ladies of the day, consisted of twelve to up to twenty layers of robes of different colors. The robes were worn so that a narrow band of each was visible at the neck, sleeves, and hem, and great importance was attached to the effect of the color combinations.

Junihitoe worn in Heian Period (794 - 1185)[1].
Tokyo National Museum.
Courtesy of reference[1].

In the twelfth century, the aristocratic Heian culture declined and the samurai warrior class assumed control of the government. They transferred the political capital to Kamakura in eastern Japan and placed restrictions on dress to control its extravagance. For themselves, they chose practical clothing of the commoners, as it was more convenient to wear in battle and coincided with the simplicity of the warrior life they followed. The ladies discarded the uncomfortable and bulky junihitoe and adopted the simple kosode and hakama, which had been the undergarment of Kyoto's court ladies and the basic outer garment of the commoners.

It is from the kosode that the present for of the kimono developed. This practical garment, closed only with a sash called an obi, fitted everyone. It was made from a piece of fabric nine yards long and fifteen inches wide. The fabric was cut into rectangular pieces of a predetermined length, selvages intact, and stitched into the basic kimono form. Initially, the plainest of the garment was relieved by the addition of an elaborately decorated outer robe, the uchikake.

Uchikake with bamboo blind, fans and cloth screen (kicho). Tie-dye clouds divide the typical Genroku-era design[1].
Edo period (1600 - 1868).
National Museum of Japanese History.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Noh costume. Motifs of eight-arched bridge, paper poem strips, flowers and grasses in embroidery and gold-leaf imprint on a silk red-and-white block design (dangawari background[1].
Momoyama period (1568 - 1600).
Tokyo National Museum.
Courtesy of reference[1].

As time went by, the desire for more decorative kosode emerged, and new and more elaborate techniques for decorating textiles, such as shibori (tie-dye) and gold- and silver-leaf imprint techniques (surihaku), were developed.

Fan, flower, and bamboo motifs in embroidery, gold-leaf imprint, tie-dye, and divided dyeing. Mounted on a folding screen[1].
Momoyama period (1568 - 1600).
National Museum of Japanese History.
Courtesy of reference[1].

In the middle of the fourteenth century a new line of shoguns, the Ashikaga family, abolished the Kamakura shogunate and return the capital to Kyoto. The Ashikaga rules were men of cultivated taste and fervid patron of the arts. Their rule is known as the Muromachi period (1388 - 1568) after the Muromachi district in Kyoto, where the third Ashikaga shogun, Yoshimitsu built his palace. Yoshimitsu is also known as the builder of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, where he planned to retire and live as a Buddhist monk. During this time, Zen Buddhism strongly influenced the arts. Not only did ink painting reach a new height, but the Not drama, supported by the shoguns, developed from an agricultural festival dance to a highly refined dramatic art. The Muromachi period was paradoxical in many ways: it was characterised by domestic unrest and civil war on the one hand and property, cultural development, and the resumption of trade with China under the Ming dynasty (1368 - ca. 1644) on the other. Japanese merchants became wealthy, and as the living standard rose, they demanded more elaborate clothing, leading to the development of even more ornate textiles. It was during this period that tsujigahana (stitched tie-dye combined with ink, painting, gold- or silver-leaf imprint embellishments, and embroidery on silk) began to evolve.

Another important development in the field of textiles at this time was the import of cotton from Korea and China in the fifteenth century. The plant flourished in Japan and was valued because it provided greater warmth, and was easier and cheaper to raise, process, and dye than the bast fibers used up to that time.

The Momoyama period (1568 - 1600) saw the unification of Japan under the warlord Oda Nobunaga. He was assassinated in 1582, and power passed to his leading vassal, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who continued to consolidate the country. Hideyoshi's death was followed by a seventeen-year struggle between his heirs and a rival general, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in which Ieyasu finals triumphed. In his brief period. artist and artisans were called upon to perform to the highest level of their ability.

Sleeve of a kosode in scarlet silk rinse (satin float pattern weave). Decorated with embroidery of paulownia and a small hexagonal chest of sort used for storing the painted clamshells of an ancient shell-matching game[1].
Edo period (1600 - 1868).
Tokyo National Museum.
Courtesy of reference[1].

During the Momoyama period (1568 - 1600) the art of tsuigahana reached the zenith of its short existence. Some of the most beautiful kimono ever created were made using this combination if techniques, but tsuigahana fell victim to the complexity that made it so special, and it disappeared as an art form during the sixteenth century. Along with the demand for dyed masterpieces came the need for more elaborately woven fabrics, and in Kyoto, a special area of the city, Nishijin, was established as a weaving center.

Kosode. Beautiful scenery on blue crepe (chirimen) in yuzen and embroidery. The Uji Bridge is embellished with couched gold thread[1].
Edo period (1600 - 1868).
Tokyo National Museum.

After Ieyasu's triumph over the descendants of Hideyoshi he moved the capital back to eastern Japan, to the village of Edo (now Tokyo), and the Edo period (1600 - 1868) began. His descendants ruled for more than two hundred years. During their reign they isolated Japan from any outside influences by prohibiting trade and cultural exchange with the rest of the world.


Reference:
[1] S. Yang, and R.M. Narasin, Textile Art of Japan, Shufunotomo, Tokyo (1989).