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Woven Identities of Japan - Ainu and Okinawan Textiles

Bingata kimono

In the first of two rotations, Woven Identities of Japan highlights the Ainu and Okinawan textiles from the late 19th c to early 20th c. Now on display at the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California are kimonos and robes worn by these two distinct ethnic groups. The contrasts in the types of fabrics, ornamentation and color used by the Ainu and Okinawan people speak of their traditions, beliefs, social divide and geographical influences.

In  Okinawa, textiles were embellished with a stencil dyeing technique called bingata which was for the exclusive use of the Ryukyuan court. The Ryukyu Kingdom was established in 1429 and was a maritime power in Asia. Cotton, silk and banana leaf textiles were solely for the use of the upper classes  The kimono shown above is light and transparent, appropriate for the tropical climate in southern Japan. In contrast, the robes of the Ainu from Hokkaido in the north were made from elm tree or nettle fibers which provided insulation against the cold and harsh climate. Notice also the tapered sleeves of the Ainu robe compared to the wide and longer trailing sleeves of the Okinawan kimono.

Attush robe

The Ainu were hunters and gatherers. Their robes essentially expressed their religious beliefs. The Attush robe above is woven from elm tree fiber which the Ainu believed protected its wearer from evil. They also thought that evil spirits entered their body through the openings in their robes so hems and sleeves were therefore elaborately adorned with applique and embroidery. The Attush robe was worn for special occasions.

 Ainu man

The exhibit continues until October 29, 2011. The second rotation will start in November 2011. For more information please click on this link: http://www.ccjac.org/
The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture
15770 Tenth Avenue
Hanford, CA
Phone; 559-582-4915

The kimonos shown above are from the private collection of Thomas Murray. The scroll is from Clark Collection.

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Images by Charie

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