Sunday, April 21, 2013

Risking Death for Fashion: How Edo-Era Peasants Slipped One Past the Shogun

Sampo Nikki 1 is now being prepared for publication as a bilingual paperback by Nikkei editor Hisashi Arai at Sporiq Publishing:

Each right-hand page features a very special Edo-era design, with the most fascinating of stories behind it. From the afterward:

A note on the backgrounds:

The backgrounds you see on the right-hand pages are authentic Edo kimono designs, reprinted with permission from Edo no Dento Monyo (江戸の伝統文様 - traditional Edo patterns), MdN Books.

The diversity of beautiful designs are a traditional Edo-era style called Edo-Komon (江戸小紋). The patterns carry a repeating motif of important plants, birds, animals, and other natural scenes. Each carries an auspicious meaning. including bamboo, pines and japanese plums, flowers such as plum and cherry blossoms, birds such as sparrows, herons and cranes, insects such as grasshoppers, dragonflies and butterflies.

Each item carries a special significance, a kind of "code" known among art aficionados, signifying, for example, longevity or prosperity. Samurai in particular loved the mark of the dragonfly, as it personified dauntless forward progress. 

Because the Edo era was relatively peaceful and stable, culture flourished across the country. 

These patterns were produced by the period's most skillful artisans. From a distance, Edo-komon designs are cleverly disguised as the plainest textiles. This has a connection to the Shogun - Edo-komon was initially derived from the formal dress of the samurai. The formal dress of the bushido was an indication of wealth and status, and the Shogun formally strictly regulated clothing. Luxuries such as colored textiles were forbidden among commoners, who were only permitted to wear browns, greys and blacks.

Since the motifs in the textiles were so tiny, from a distance they appeared quite 地味 (jimi - plain), but up close, they were quite elaborately-crafted and beautiful. It was forbidden for those of the peasant class to approach those of higher rank, so the apparent plainness of design cleverly concealed the beauty of the designs. Eventually, the use of these patterns spread everywhere among the working class. This was the reason craftspeople of the time used 48 different browns and 100 different grays.

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