Traveling Exhibition

Welcome to the Online Version of the
Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs

Traveling Kimono Exhibition

Kimono Through Time

Currently on Display at The Holiday Folk Fest in West Allis, Wisconsin

Thank you for visiting the online edition of our traveling kimono exhibition.  This exhibition has been brought to the Holiday Folk Fair International with the support of theThe National Association of Japan-America Societies, and we would like to thank them for their support in making this stop for our traveling exhibition possible.

This exhibition highlights antique and modern kimono fashions and items from the Edo Period to Present Day. All pieces come from the private collections of Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs, the largest vintage kimono importer in the United States of America.

Through this exhibition, we hope to give Holiday Folk Fair International attendees access to authentic and antique kimono materials that usually can only be found in museums. Through the display and accompanying information presented on each of these garments, we hope that all viewers will gain a newfound appreciation for kimono throughout history, and will be inspired to try kimono fashion for themselves.

We invite you to visit the Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs booth at the Holiday International Folk Fair Marketplace. For further information about the kimono on display and Japanese culture, please visit us online at www.TangerineMountain.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TangerineMountain, and on Instagram @TangerineKimono. To arrange a visit to our Showroom in Schaumburg, Illinois, please email us at tangerinemt@gmail.com.

In an effort to make our exhibition accessible to all, we have posted the web-readable version of all descriptive text for the exhibition here with photo guides.  If you have additional questions about this exhibition, please see one of our guides on-site at the Holiday Folk Fair International, or email us at www.TangerineMountain.com.

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Exhibition Thesis:

Ever since Commodore Perry steamed into Tokyo Harbor in July of 1853, the West has been fascinated by kimono and Japanese culture. While modern kimono as we know them are a uniquely Japanese creation, hints of kimono and Japanese fashion can be found throughout Western history. From the obi-like sashes that Colonel Winchester and Civil War regiment soldiers incorporated as status-symbols into their uniforms, to American 1920’s flapper fashion which utilized straight seams without tailoring, to modern-day shawls and wraps that bear the “kimono” name; the West’s fascination with kimono as art and fashion has only continued to grow to new heights.

Through this exhibition, Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs hopes to highlight a variety of modern, vintage, and antique garments that will highlight specific aspects of kimono and provide context to their representation in modern and popular culture. The purpose of this exhibit is to ultimately engage the public in cultural exchange through kimono, while providing an educational opportunity to learn about kimono through direct access to authentic materials.

Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs would like to give special thanks to all who have supported our mission and directly helped make this traveling exhibition a reality, including but not limited to: The Holiday Folk Fest International, The National Association of Japan-America Societies, The Chicago Wafu Club, The Consulate of Japan at Chicago, Anime Iowa, Japan House at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Kujira Japanese Art & Craft Community, Rimma Doi and Helene Nishida of ACDC Rag, Lisa Truong, The Museum of the First Corps of Cadets, and all of our loyal patrons and customers.

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Antique Furisode Kimono Juxtaposed with Modern Kimono with Western Wear

In the West, we are accustomed to the materials and physical structure of a garment dictating its formality. However, Japanese fashion takes a ubiquitous kimono structure and allows formality to be expressed through strategic artistic design choices and materials that are used not only in the creation of the fabric, but also in how it is woven and decorated.

While much of the world has a fixed idea of what a kimono looks like, in Harajuku (the modern fashion capital of Japan), designers such as Rimma Doi of ACDC Rag are playing with tradition to create a new kind of kimono. This garment, called “Rainbow Unicorn,” honors traditional kimono features, such as a lack of tailoring, but incorporates modern details, such as belt loops, pockets, and a bold, brightly colored print of candy pieces. While ACDC Rag’s modern kimono may not entirely copy the structure and construction typical of kimono for the past 150 years or so, this piece mixes modern ideas with traditional sensibilities.

The antique blue kimono that is juxtaposed with this modern commentary on traditional fashion is typical of Meiji Period (1868-1912) design. A sumptuously woven rinzu silk furisode is minimally decorated with tasteful, small designs of architecture amidst ethereal mountains and mist, surrounded by delicately depicted tiered pine trees. While this piece has become slightly damaged over time, much of the original hand-embroidery on the roofs of the buildings remains intact.

Furisode kimono are designed specifically for young, unmarried women, and this furisode was clearly commissioned for a family of some means. Degradation of the fabric in a few areas reveals the beni red silk lining beneath the top layer of silk; this shade of red was typically used for lining for fine garments in an act of rebellion against the shogun of generations past, who forbade non-nobles from wearing the expensive dye on outer layers of their clothing.

The formal nature of the kimono dictates a suitably formal maru obi. Maru obi are double-sided, heavy brocade garments that were commonly worn for much of kimono history, but largely fell out of favor after the Meiji Period due to their weight and cost to produce.

This particular furisode is among the oldest in the collection of Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs.

ACDC Rag modern kimono “Rainbow Unicorn;” dye sublimated polyester with pockets and belt loops. T-shirt featuring characters from “Taiko no Tetsujin,” a popular video game in Japanese arcades; denim shorts; Pokémon Pikachu plush backpack.

Antique furisode circa late Meiji (1868-1912); silk. Antique maru obi circa late Meiji (1868-1912); silk.

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Komon (Everyday) Kimono

Komon are easily identifiable due to having pattern all over the surface of the kimono, rather than in only specific parts of the garment. Unlike their more formal counterparts, they are considered “everyday” kimono, but the classification is very broad. Everyday kimono can be worn to everything from going to the local grocery store to a nice dinner or similar outing. They can range in materials from wool to hemp to silk, and designs can be created utilizing everything from printing to hand-dyeing.

The modern pink komon on display is on the finer end of the komon spectrum, making it possible to create a dressier look by pairing it with a classy and expensive obi made of chirimen (over-twisted thread) crepe. This silk komon is awase, or lined, and therefore is warmer and heavier to wear on the body. Colorful chrysanthemums, the national flower of Japan, and autumn grasses cover the dip-dyed background.

The black antique komon is also made of silk, but the faint stripe-like gauze weave classifies it as ro silk, which is often used for unlined summer kimono and their nagajuban (kimono undergarment). The large 5-leaf pattern depicts bamboo in the height of summer’s heat, and is a common motif at that time of year. The chuuya obi is lightweight, with thin black satin-weave silk on one side, for evening wear, and summer weight ro gauze on the other side, for daytime wear.

Modern komon circa late Showa (1926-1989) to Heisei (1989-2019); silk. Nagoya obi circa late Showa (1926-1989) to Heisei (1989-2019); hand-dyed silk chirimen crepe.

Antique summer komon circa late Taisho (1912-1926) to early Showa (1926-1989); silk. Chuuya obi circa late Taisho (1912-1926) to early Showa (1926-1989); satin-weave black silk on one side and ro gauze silk on the other.

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Houmongi Kimono

The houmongi kimono is sometimes called “visiting wear.” It was first conceived in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) as a high class kimono to wear when going to visit others. While tomesode and furisode may only be worn in very few circumstances, houmongi are semiformal and therefore a little more versatile; they can be worn to a variety of events, from parties and theatre to weddings and tea ceremony. Younger women tend to have a longer sleeve drop than married women for this particular garment.

Houmongi, such as the yellow modern example featured in this exhibition, have pattern along the bottom of the kimono, typically in edozuma style (sweeping from the left panel to taper off toward the right). The difference between this kimono and its more formal counterparts is that the sleeves, the back of the right hand shoulder, and front of the left hand shoulder, are decorated with designs that are harmonious with the pattern along bottom of the garment. Houmongi can have mon (family crests), with one mon in the center back being most common. This modern houmongi works for several seasons, featuring chrysanthemums and maple leaves for Autumn, plum blossoms for Winter, and peonies and orange blossoms for Spring.

Similar to the houmongi, the tsukesage kimono, such as the antique example featured in this exhibition, has patterns dyed in similar positions to the houmongi; but these patterns and designs are done in such as way as to not cross over some of the seams of the kimono. Motifs include chrysanthemums, plum blossoms, orange blossoms, and fans, making this piece another multi-season kimono. The obi is a fukuro style obi with plain weave, colorfully printed fabric on the side meant to be interior, and printed silk on the other side with small areas of embroidery.

Modern houmongi in yellow circa Heisei Period (1989-2019); hand-dyed and painted silk. Modern fukuro-nagoya obi circa late Showa (1926-1989) to Heisei (1989-2019); nishiki metallic woven silk.

Antique tsukesage circa late Taisho Period (1912-1926) to early Showa Period (1926-1989); silk. Antique fukuro obi circa early Showa Period (1926-1989); silk and cotton.

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Furisode

The furisode is the most formal kind of kimono worn by young, unmarried women. The words “furi” and “sode” translate to “swinging” and “sleeve,” and allude to fluttering butterfly wings. Young women indicate their unattached status by their colorful, sumptuous kimono with eye-catching sleeves. Typically, furisode are paired with gorgeous obi and worn for formal occasions, such as weddings and graduations.

The sherbet-colored modern furisode on display here features Japanese maple leaves, chrysanthemums, plum blossoms, and peonies against a background of flowing water motifs making this furisode appropriate for autumn to early spring. The dazzling obi features paulownia, chrysanthemums, and Chinese flowers—idealized flowers known for their symmetry. Butterflies burst from the corners of some hexagons, hinting at a joyous spring to come.

This bright colors in the antique furisode featured here demonstrates fine yuuzen dye work and the expanded color palettes of the Meiji and Taisho Periods. The sumptuous detail indicates the mastery of its creator and demonstrates the height of kimono artistry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Within the ground is the famed hollyhock heart-shaped leaf, a symbol of the Tokugawa clan, which ruled Japan throughout the Edo Period (1603-1868).

The kimono has many areas of hand-couching, in which gold foil-wrapped silk threads are laid out on the fabric and then affixed along the outline of a design element with fine silk thread. A decorative woven basket sits within a carriage, and flowers spill out of it: peonies, daisies, chrysanthemums, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, and delicate wisteria. Some petals are embroidered utilizing a satin-style long stitch—a fragile element that highlights their beauty.

The maru obi paired with this kimono features areas of plain weave and complex weave, in some cases using foiled thread, in a design that shows off the technical skill of brocade weaving of the time. Traditional stitch-bound books adorn the obi, with designs of flowers contained within the covers. Irises, chrysanthemums, and plum blossoms in pale shades alternate with silver and gold elements to bring together a dreamy look.

Modern furisode circa late Showa (1926-1989) to early Heisei (1989-2019); satin-weave silk with rinzu (damask) effects of flowing water; machine or machine-assisted hand embroidery against a dyed ground. Fukuro obi circa late Showa (1926-1989) to early Heisei (1989-2019); silk with metallic foil thread.

Antique furisode circa late Meiji Period (1868-1912) to Taisho Period (1912-1926); hand-dyed, painted, embroidered, and couched silk. Antique maru obi circa Taisho Period (1912-1926) to early Showa Period (1926-1989); silk with foil silk thread.

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Wedding Kimono

One of the ultimate symbols of modern kimono finery is the uchikake, which is the uppermost layer of a woman’s wedding kitsuke (kimono wearing) ensemble. This heavy brocade kimono is thickly padded at the bottom to ensure the entire back flares out beautifully. The uchikake is not closed with an obi, presenting a silhouette reminiscent of the juunihitoe, or twelve-layer robe ensembles of the noble courts of the Heian Period (794-1185). Wedding processions tend to move at a slow pace, as the weight of the many layers of kimono plus the weight of the uchikake make movement difficult.

A common motif in wedding kimono is the crane. Red crowned cranes, called “tanchouzuru,” are utilized to depict fidelity, as cranes mate for life, and longevity. The red and gold foil ground of the uchikake features multi-layered chrysanthemums, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, and maple leaves amid swirls of water. Prominently featured are cypress-slat fans, which were carried by Heian Period (794-1185) nobility. Stacked among the fans are tiered pine boughs, a common winter motif representing strength in the face of adversity juxtaposed against delicate dripping wisteria blossoms, a symbol of love and beauty.

Modern uchikake wedding kimono circa Heisei Period (1989-2019); silk, foil-woven silk, machine and machine-assisted hand-embroidered silk.

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Vintage Men’s Summer Kimono

Compared to women’s kimono, men’s kimono seem plain and austere. Although this centuries-old trend is slowly ceding to more colorful and patterned men’s kimono, they are typically still more conservative than their more feminine counterparts. The reasons for this are rooted in the politics of the shogunate of the Edo Period.

At the start of the Edo Period (1603-1868), Tokugawa Iemitsu wished to ensure that no daimyo could afford to rise up against him. The sankin-koutai system required all nobles to maintain dual households–one in their home fief, and one in Edo. Noblemen had to keep their primary wife and firstborn son at the Imperial Palace, and were expected to travel to and from their fiefs and the palace regularly. Naturally, after several generations of constant travel, towns grew and flourished along the nobles’ routes. Merchants (chounin) began to look for ways to demonstrate their wealth, and since they couldn’t buy their way into the nobility, they spent their money on clothes, to the point where they began to look wealthier than the nobility. As time went on, Kabuki became an increasingly popular form of entertainment, and people coveted the rich, luxurious, and extremely bold Kabuki kimono. While the Kabuki kimono patterns were designed to be seen from stage, kimono designs for the chounin were designed to been seen by everyone.

The nobility responded by issuing round after round of sumptuary laws, which were decrees restricting various aspects of clothing in an effort to differentiate people according to their socioeconomic class. While the enforcement of these laws was sometimes spotty, one of the most far-reaching of these laws was the idea that men eventually could not have any kind of ornamentation on the outside of their kimono. This led to the rise of katazome, or stencil dyeing, in which paste resist is squeezed against a firm stencil to create a dotted or small pattern effect. From a distance, the patterning is so small that it disappears and the kimono seems to be plain; but up close, the pattern gives a subtle and refined effect.

Thus, men’s kimono tend to feature muted, deep colors, geometric designs such as stripes and hexagons, and subtle, fine weaves. Another distinguishing feature of men’s kimono is that there is no sleeve opening at the underarm as there is with women’s and children’s kimono. Men’s kimono do not need as much space for the obi to settle between the hipline and the underarm, compared to women’s obi, as men’s obi tend to be narrower (approximately 10 centimeters) compared to women’s (approximately 12-35 centimeters, with wider obi folded in half lengthwise as they are wrapped around the body).

As with women’s kimono, men’s kimono can incorporate gauze fabrics such as ro. Finely woven silk in light, striated layers keeps the wearer cool in Japan’s humid summers. As with women’s summer weight kimono, men’s summer weight kimono are worn with a summer weight nagajuban (kimono undergarment) to ensure proper modesty.

As Edo Period chounin became wealthier and wealthier at the expense of noble overlords, they began to adopt haori jackets, too, albeit with further restrictions due to sumptuary laws. One way around these laws was to put fantastic painted, dyed, or woven designs on the inside layer or the inside lining of jackets. Haori could then be displayed in the home on a stand called an “iko” in such a way that the artwork inside was visible. Additionally, men’s nagajuban, or kimono undergarments, became a method of self-expression. Nagajuban for men could be made of silk decorated with shibori designs, hand painting, or dye work, or simpler prints depicting anything from trains to scenic landscapes to baseball equipment.

Men’s summer weight kimono and nagajuban circa Showa Period (1926-1989); ro silk. Vintage kaku obi.

Men’s nagajuban circa Showa Period (1926-1989); printed cotton.

Men’s haori jacket circa Showa Period (1926-1989); habutae silk exterior, hand-painted silk interior.

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Antique Hikizuri

Hikizuri, otherwise known as susohiki, are known for two things: dancers and maiko/geisha. The kimono is not tucked up into the waist pleat (ohashori) as it is for modern kimono. Instead, the hemline, which is typically padded to make the fabric flow more beautifully, is allowed to trail behind the wearer. The bottom portion (“skirt” portion) is elongated compared to a typical kimono. The collar line is constructed differently, to allow for greater drape at the nape of the neck, which is considered alluring. Sleeve length varies depending on who is wearing the kimono; young girls in Kabuki plays and apprentice geisha (maiko) wear long sleeves, while adult females in Kabuki and in dance have more typical sleeve length. Traditionally, Kabuki actors are men, even when portraying feminine roles; these actors are termed “onnagata.”

The rich color in this hikizuri is indicative of the Taisho Period and demonstrates masterful use of dye and paint. It is a ryouzuma, meaning mirror image kimono, in which the front right and left okumi (narrow panels meant to overlap as the kimono is wrapped around the body) panels look nearly the same. This style was popular in Western Japan for quite some time during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa Periods, but finally went out of style in the 1930s..

Hikizuri kimono circa Taisho Period (1912-1926); hand-dyed and painted silk. Maru obi circa Showa period (1926-1989); brocade silk.

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Kurotomesode

Like the irotomesode, the kurotomesode holds a place of high formality. Kurotomesode are the most formal kind of kimono worn by married women, and differ from irotomesode by having a black, or “kuro,” ground to the kimono. In modern times, they almost invariably have 5 mon (family crests), placing them at the highest level of formality compared to kimono with 1 or 3 mon.

Prior to World War II, there were two styles of design for tomesode: ryouzuma and edozuma. Ryouzuma were mirror-image or nearly mirror-image along the okumi (half-width panel to create overlap) and migoro (full width main body panel) on each side. They were more common in Western Japan, while edozuma, as the name implies, were more popular in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and Eastern Japan. After wartime, ryouzuma faded out of popularity, so that now, with rare exception, tomesode, regardless of color, have designs that sweep from the front left panel and taper off toward the right.

The modern kurotomesode is hand-dyed and painted in a lattice-like pattern, with motifs contained within fans and circles along the hemline. Irises, peonies, wisteria, bellflowers, and cherry blossoms in delicate pink juxtaposed with strong orange to slate ombre indicate a vibrant Spring, while pine boughs and Japanese maple leaves give a nod to Winter. Bamboo can be both a summer and winter motif, depending on context; for winter, it is often accompanied by plum blossoms and pine. Pine, bamboo, and plum form the fabled Three Friends of Winter, which represent strength in the face of the adversity of the season, and have come to indicate good fortune in Japan. Thus, this kimono is an all-season piece. The modern fukuro obi accompanying it contains mostly spring motifs, including butterflies flitting among cherry blossoms.

The antique kurotomesode presents a sumptuous display of flower carriages bursting with blossoms. Many of the same flowers are represented as in the modern kurotomesode, against a backdrop of clouds and water flowing among rocks. This bold, yet dreamy scene is accompanied by a Showa period maru obi featuring folding fans, each containing ox-drawn carriages heavily decorated with hexagons, basket weave pattern, Chinese flowers, and more admit a burst of flowers, pine boughs, and clouds.

Modern kurotomesode circa late Showa (1926-1989); hand-dyed and painted silk. Modern fukuro obi; silk and foil-wrapped silk weave.

Antique kurotomesode circa Taisho Period (1912-1926); hand-painted, dyed, and embroidered silk. Antique maru obi circa early Showa Period (1926-1989); silk and foiled silk.

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Grouping of Children’s Kimono and Flag

Antique Everyday Toddler Kimono

Everyday kimono for small children were a relatively simple affair: a naturally dyed, homemade kimono with a sash-like obi. This softer look is in contrast to more formal attire for special events, such as “Shichi-go-san.”

Kimono circa Meiji Period (1868-1912) to Taisho Period (1912-1926); plain weave cotton, lined in possibly homespun cotton dyed in indigo and green. Vintage heko obi in shibori dye; silk.

Formal Children’s Kimono

Shichi-go-san celebrates a rite of passage for children at the ages of three and seven for girls and five for boys. The festival first started in the Heian Period (794-1185) as a celebration among court nobles that their children had (so far) survived childhood. The current practice of presenting children at their local Temple to ward off evil spirits started in the Meiji Period, as more and more commoners adopted the once-noble custom.

Young girls wear a kimono covered by a vest called a “hifu” instead of an elaborate obi, while boys at age 5 wear hakama (large trouser-like garment) for the first time. Common motifs for young boys include eagles, arrow fletching, and samurai helmets. Girls at 7 years of age wear formal obi for the first time, and in modern times, they are often elaborate pre-tied obi.

Kimono set for 3-year-old girl circa Heisei Period (1989-2019); printed synthetic; hifu vest has flower details in synthetic thread

Modern kimono set for 5-year-old boy circa Heisei Period (1989-2019); silk and printed synthetic

Antique Girls Kimono and Boy’s Day Flag

Such a beautiful young girl’s kimono must have been a glorious sight on a small child. This kimono may have been used for shichi-go-san, but without additional pieces like a matching “hifu,” it is difficult to determine for certain. Cornsilk blue was a popular ground color for kimono in the late Meiji Period; the color gives a dreamy feel to the sumptuous decoration toward the bottom of each sleeve and the hemline.

All children’s kimono are open at the underarm of the sleeve because of the belief that children’s body temperature runs hotter than that of adults. All children’s formal kimono have long, furisode-like sleeves as well. This means it can be difficult to tell the difference in gender for children’s kimono. The hoh-oh bird featured in this kimono gives a strong indication that this kimono is intended for a young girl, as hoh-oh birds can be thought of as the feminine version of the phoenix.

Displayed alongside this antique girl’s kimono is a hand-painted antique Boy’s Day Flag. This Boy’s Day Flag was created to celebrate the Festival of Banners on May 5th each year at the conclusion of Golden Week, and is otherwise known as Boy’s Day. In 1948, Boy’s Day was changed to Children’s Day, and was dedicated to the happiness of children as well as a celebration of mothers. A flag like this depicting samurai and a horse would have been flown high on this illustrious day.

Kimono circa Meiji Period (1868-1912); hand dyed silk.

Boy’s Day Flag circa early Taisho Period (1912-1926); hand-painted cotton or hemp.

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Modern Furisode Wedding Dress Ensemble

 

The ultimate combination of traditional Japanese and modern Western fashion, this ensemble features a Western wedding dress with a modern furisode kimono laid over top. A popular look on Japanese Pinterest accounts, the “rules” are such that the kimono cannot be cut, resewn, pinned, or stitched to the dress in any way. The furisode must be usable as a kimono the second it is taken off the dress.

While this ensemble seems nigh impossible to put together, in reality, it requires little more than knowledge of basic kitsuke (the art of wearing kimono) and willingness to drape a furisode on the wearer backwards. Once the wedding dress is on the body and secured, the kimono part of the ensemble begins. The kimono is tied in place using traditional koshihimo narrow sashes, a traditional ohashori fold along the hipline is created, and the formal fukuro obi is tied using a typical furisode elaborate musubi (knot). Other than the furisode being put on backwards, the other major difference is that the furisode sleeves are secured along the back of the dress and draped attractively down the train. Thus, no pinning, cutting, stitching, or resewing is required. The result is a fabulous way to harmoniously celebrate traditions of both Western weddings and Japanese kimono.

Modern wedding dress. Modern furisode kimono circa late Heisei Period (1989-2019); hand-painted and dyed silk. Modern fukuro-nagoya obi circa late Heisei Period (1989-2019); silk.

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Antique Kimono with Modern Hakama, Blouse, and ACDC Rag Haori Jacket

This mix of antique and modern style creates an everyday look with a touch of whimsy. An antique meisen rayon komon (everyday kimono) is combined with blue modern women’s hakama—two garments that are not typically put together. (More often, women’s hakama are worn with the exceedingly formal furisode at the time of school graduation or the coming of age ceremony at age twenty.) Beneath the kimono is a Western-style button-down blouse, in a nod to the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when Western and Japanese fashions were often combined by fashion-forward Japanese. On top of this komon is an ACDC Rag unisex haori dye sublimated synthetic haori featuring pandas.

Many Westerners accustomed to thinking of kimono as “national costume” may find such a look a bit jarring, but it is crucial to remember that Japan’s fashion industry has been as well-developed as any Western country’s. Kimono continue to evolve, incorporating fashion elements not seen for generations alongside new ideas, the likes of which have never been tried until now.

Antique komon kimono circa Taisho Period (1912-1926) to early Showa Period (1926-1989); meisen rayon (jinken). Vintage hanhaba obi circa Showa Period (1926-1989). Western style blouse. ACDC Rag unisex haori jacket late Heisei Period (1989-2019); dye sublimated synthetic.

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Kimono Remake Dress by Lisa Truong

When wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing of any type) cannot be worn anymore due to wear and tear, it is Japanese tradition to upcycle the fabric into another garment or a small handicraft. In Japan, this concept is called “kimono remake.” A quick look through the crafting section of a Japanese bookstore or on Pinterest reveals a seemingly infinite number of items that can be created utilizing wafuku fabric.

Lisa Truong, master costumer and designer, created this kimono remake dress utilizing a damaged hitoe (unlined) kimono. The dress flows down the body thanks to the drape of the fabric and the 1930s-style seaming, which was done strategically to take advantage of the narrow bolt width of kimono fabric. The tiny pattern of the dress fabric is accented by a simple modern synthetic hanhaba (half width) obi, and the look is completed with an antique haori jacket in deep charcoal.

While the idea of textile upcycling is not new to the United States, modern Americans often have no experience with the concept unless they are interested in patchwork quilting. This is to the detriment of the environmental health of the world; the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 11 million tons of textile waste goes into landfills and oceans each year worldwide. One goal of this exhibit is to encourage viewers to think about the textile waste they generate each year and what can be done to reduce that waste. Truong’s dress is just one example of the fantastic fashion items that can be created using upcycled textiles while simultaneously honoring Japanese tradition.

1930s-style dress; upcycled unlined kimono fabric. Modern hanhaba obi; synthetic. Antique haori jacket; hand-dyed silk.

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Higuchi Family Samurai Armor

The Higuchi were high-ranking retainers of the Sanada clan, based at Matsushiro Castle in present-day Nagano City. At the end of the Edo Period, the Higuchi were among the wealthiest retainers, with over 230 koku of rice. They participated in the Sanada clan’s support of the military and literary arts.

The Sanada clan was split during the time of the Battle of Sekigahara, with Sanada Nobuyuki siding with the Tokugawa, and his father and younger brother, Masayuki and Yukimura respectively, siding with the Toyotomi. After the defeat of the Toyotomi, Sanada Nobuyuki took over Ueda Castle and eventually, Matsushiro Castle.

Matsushiro Castle was built in the 16th century, and eventually came under the domain of the Sanada clan. The Chikuma River forms a moat on one side, and it had other earthen defenses. The Higuchi Family Residence is located very close by. The castle was ruled by the Sanada for 250 years. Today, you can see the ruins of the castle, and sections of it are under renovation to restore parts of it to their former glory.

This particular set of armor was created in the Edo Period (1603-1868), and is considered a full set. The toggles on the armor would have originally been made of bone or wood, but were replaced with plastic during its restoration. It was professionally restored in Japan in the early Shouwa Period (around the 1940s), and was acquired for the private collection of Tangerine Mountain Imports & Designs in 2017.

You can learn more about Matsushiro Castle, the Sanada clan, and the Higuchi Family residence at: https://www.sanadahoumotsukan.com/en/index.php .

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Men’s Formal Kimono and Kamishimo (Kataginu and Hakama)

Samurai were upper class members of society, and thus had a dress code that indicated their rank. Kimono incorporated kamon, or family crests, along the back of sleeves, the back of the neck, and the front of the kimono on either side of the collar. When in public, it was required of samurai to wear hakama over their kimono—a wide, pleated, pants-like garment. Hakama are knotted around the body utilizing two sets of long ties, and must be worn with a kimono underneath, lest the long, triangular opening on each side of the body reveal the side of the thigh.

Also required of samurai men was the use of either a haori (kimono jacket) or kataginu—a sleeveless, boned vest-like garment with kamon on the back in the center and on either side of the front. The width of the kataginu implied the importance of the man wearing it; in woodblock prints, famous shogun were typically depicted with very wide kataginu, providing a simple visual clue as to which character was most crucial to each scene.

Men’s kimono circa Showa Period (1926-1989); habutae silk with dyed mon, or crests. Kamishimo set (Kataginu and Hakama) circa Showa Period (1926-1989); rayon or synthetic. 

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Rurouni Kenshin Kimono Cosplay

Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most popular and beloved stories in the past 30 years of anime and manga history. A historical drama, it tells the story of a wandering warrior, Himura Kenshin, who has taken a vow not to kill after spending his youth as a ruthless assassin and, later, a soldier for the Imperial forces during the civil war that ushered in the Meiji Era.

The story is set in a time of enormous change in Japan. The feudal system of the Edo Period has been abolished and the emperor has been reaffirmed as the sole source of political power in Japan. The relative isolationism that characterized the Edo Period has been replaced by contact with the outside world. Western technology, ideas, and fashion are eagerly sought by many Japanese.

Kimono fell somewhat out of fashion during the Meiji Period, at least in major population centers, although Japanese textiles were still preferred when creating Western-style women’s gowns. Men mixed Western bowler hats and duster jackets with kimono, or abandoned kimono entirely in favor of Western suits.

Throughout Rurouni Kenshin, it is clear that Meiji Period Japan is in a state of transition, with many questioning what it means to be Japanese in a very different world than that of the Edo Period. While Kenshin wears kimono and hakama, others of similar status–war veterans who helped abolish the shogunate–have taken up government positions and switched to Western suits. Kaoru is a reflection of the multifaceted nature of her country and time: she wears everything from a kendo uniform to sumptuous kimono befitting the daughter of a samurai. Interestingly, the kimono Kaoru is depicted wearing in the Rurouni Kenshin manga and anime are sometimes closer in style to Taisho Period (1912-1926) kimono than Meiji because of their large, bold patterns. The kimono on display in this exhibit reflects a compromise between remaining true to the timeline of the story while creating a recognizable, if slightly anachronistic look.

Himura Kenshin: vintage russet iromuji (single color kimono); kinsha silk; modern green obi; modern white hakama.

Kamiya Kaoru: houmongi kimono circa late Meiji (1868-1912) to early Taisho (1912-1926); silk. Green and orange striped chuuya obi; black satin weave silk on one side and patterned silk on the other side, intended to give a daytime look and an evening look in one full-width obi.