Traditional Japanese Textiles | The Heritage of World Culture

Md Mahedi Hasan

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Traditional Japanese Textiles – The origin of Japanese textile culture dates back to 300 B.C. when invaders from northeast Asia established the Yayoi culture. Simple fabrics made from plant fibers were joined by more complex materials such as ramie and silk. The Yamato period saw the emergence of the monarchy, so there was an increased demand for luxury. The development of Buddhism facilitated the production of expensive fabrics for ecclesiastical use.

Textile craftsmen 一 weavers, dyers 一 were under the patronage of the court, and textile production was regulated by the state. The imperial workshops produced the finest fabrics.

Image: Traditional Japanese Textiles
Image: Traditional Japanese Textiles

Twill weave, wax-stamped patterns, brocade, embroidery, and applique 一 these techniques were the most developed. If you’re seriously into it, try Japanese calligraphy and art classes at for a full immersion in the art of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Traditional Japanese Textiles Colors

Japanese crafts use a traditional color scheme:

  • red-purple;
  • red;
  • yellow-red;
  • yellows;
  • yellow-greens;
  • green-blue green;
  • blue-violet;
  • violet;
  • achromatic.

The complex colorists include such poetic names for the hues as the color of the feather of the Japanese ibis, the color of the long spring, black kite, washed red, brown like a polishing stone, the color of burnt bamboo, the color of a damp wall, the back of willow leaves, and a host of others.

Prince Shotoku introduced in 603 the System of Twelve Ranks, according to which ranks and ranks were determined in ancient Japan. To each rank of the hierarchy corresponded the colors of headdresses and accessories. in imperial workshops expanded and improved methods of dyeing.

Image: Traditional Japanese Textile Colors

In the VIII-XI centuries, a system of forbidden colors was introduced:

  • sumac could only be worn by the emperor;
  • Pale green was intended for the emperor’s outer garments, as well as for palace servants of a certain rank;
  • pale red 一 for the ex-emperor’s outer garments;
  • yellow-red 一 for the outer garments of the crown prince;
  • dark purple 一 for aristocrats of the first rank, etc.

During the Meiji period (nineteenth century), the ban was lifted from all colors except sumac, yellow-red, and gardenia.

Bingata 一 A Way of Dyeing Fabrics

When we imagine Japanese patterns, the first fabrics that come to mind are bingata dyeing. This is an Okinawan dyeing technique, the essence of which is to use pigment on the fabric through a paper stencil. The basis for painting was cotton, silk, and abaca made of banana palm fibers.

Image: Bingata Dyeing
Image: Bingata Dyeing

The main motifs of the patterns are flowers, birds, and landscapes. Large patterns on a yellow background were worn only by members of the royal family, and white and light blue colors were offered to the aristocracy.

Historical Events That Influenced the Textile Industry

During the Nara period (710ー785), Buddhist temples became powerful: the textile arts developed rapidly, and textiles were imported from the mainland en masse. A large number of private workshops appeared. The aesthetics of clothing implied the use of several layers of fabric and a harmonious combination of colors, each of which was a certain symbol.

Image: Japanese Traditional Fabric
Image: Japanese Traditional Fabric

The military rule of the samurai during the Kamakura (1185ー1233) and Muromachi (1338ー1477) periods was accompanied by an increase in international trade. New technologies, materials, and pattern motifs were brought to the island. Cotton was increasingly used instead of hemp fibers. The emergence of the Nôh theater contributed to the demand for brilliant, luxurious costumes. Multipurpose looms became available, so craftsmen took up weaving satin, and damask, which were richly complemented by embroidery and dyed patterns.

After the Civil War of 1477ー1601, the Tokugawa Shogunate (1601ー1868) came to power, and a period of peace and prosperity ensued. The kimono, particularly the kosode, became a staple of the Japanese man’s closet.

Laws against excessive luxury were enacted, so weavers and dyers used less embellishment, but the structure of the material was of the highest quality. Jewelry allowed complex obi belts, which played the role of an accessory to the kimono.

Image: Japanese Traditional Fabric
Image: Japanese Traditional Fabric

Unique methods of weaving and decorating fabrics were passed down from generation to generation in the countryside, with each region characterized by a different style.

The late nineteenth century modernized Japan and brought Western attitudes to fashion. Traditional textiles were in a declining state. Until the Japanese took steps to preserve traditional textile art from extinction.

Traditional and Modern Textiles of Japan

Tradition involves the use of natural silk for kimonos. Decorative elements are applied with dye to damask or plain weave fabric. Religious garments and decorations were made of brocade and tapestry. Japanese embroidery of those times included chain and satin stitch and French knots.

Image: Traditional and Modern Textiles of Japan

As for the modern textile industry, the government supports the restoration of intangible cultural values. Traditional textile production receives subsidies, and fabrics are considered “national treasures.” Silk production has become an important agricultural sector in the country.

Internationally recognized Japanese fashion designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and Kenzo Takada used textiles with an innovative approach. Which further strengthened the world’s respect for Japanese textile artisans.

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