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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 …