Important Cultural Property
Kosode (Garment with Small Wrist Openings), Design of Mandarin Ducks and Waves on Black Figured Satin
Edo Period, 17th Century
The kimono is much more than a garment; it is a symbol of traditional Japanese culture. The kimono of contemporary Japan originated with the short-sleeved kosode in the Edo period (early 17th century to mid-late 19th century). Around this time, the kosode came to be worn by people from a wide range of generations, by everyone from court nobility and the samurai class to commoners, as an outer layer of clothing. The garments came to feature brilliant decorations with techniques including embroidery, shibori (shaped resist dyeing), and katazome (stencil resist dyeing). This article introduces one such kosode from the early Edo period (17th century), a time when the most revolutionary designs appeared.
The garment features a design of waves making dramatic leaps in bow-like arcs against glossy figured satin* dyed jet black. Around them, embroidered mandarin ducks are depicted with beautiful coloration. In the early years of the Edo period, elegant and elaborate patterns that wrapped around the garments with embroidery, kanoko shibori,** and other techniques were most common. Toward the mid-17th century, however, kosode designs underwent a striking transformation. In 1620, Tokugawa Masako, a daughter of Hidetada (1579–1632), second shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, was wedded to the Emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596–1680) at the Kyoto Imperial Palace. She was later called by the title "Tōfukumon-in." She then placed orders for numerous kosode from Karigane-ya,*** a prominent Kyoto textile dealer. The garments she asked for were of entirely different designs than those of previous fashion styles in Kyoto. The patterns of flowers and birds of the four seasons are arranged in large size on the entire kosode like the composition of the painting. Then, by intendedly making a margin without patterns around the waist at the left side, and making the entire pattern arranged an arc, the kosode gained dynamic movement appearance. These innovative new designs came to be called Gosho-zome after the Gosho Imperial Palace where Tōfukumon-in lived, and they attained tremendous popularity throughout the city of Kyoto.
In 1666, Shinsen Onhiinakata ("A New Selection of Patterns"), the first hinagatabon**** work dedicated to kosode patterns, was published as a hanpon***** woodblock-printed book. The prevalence in this work of the sort of bold designs Tōfukumon-in preferred is evidence of just how celebrated the innovative, striking designs were. The inclusion of playful designs that hardly seem like they could be kosode patterns suggests that, as the style's popularity eventually spread among the townspeople, too, approaches showing freedom and resourceful wit also became more common in garment design.
A new look at the kosode here against the backdrop of the era's fashion trends in fact reveals various playful touches in its design. In the wave design with its bold sense of motion, for instance, the waves are given sharply pointed triangular forms and are filled in with stitched patterns featuring kanoko shibori designs in red and indigo. While appearing to be waves, they can in fact be seen to represent fishing nets drying on the shore. Moreover, careful inspection reveals green, leafy forms embroidered around the netting, spaced at certain intervals. Just what might this be meant to represent? That expresses pointy-tipped bamboo shoots sprouting up out of the ground. By combining these various patterns, like pairing the bamboo shoot motif, representing a wish for children's thriving growth, with mandarin ducks, symbols of harmonious marital relations, this kosode had the meaning with auspicious significance.
* Rinzu: A type of textile with damask patterns woven into it using raw silk for both the warp and weft threads. Scouring the fabric to remove impurities from it after weaving creates a smooth, glossy white appearance. The most commonly used silk fabric used for making high-quality kosode in the Edo period.
** A shaped resist dyeing technique featuring patterns of small, white dots like the spots on the back of a young deer, made by dyeing fabric with certain spots bound with thread.
*** The family business into which Ogata Kōrin was born. See "The Beauty of Kimono," September 2023.。
**** A book of patterns featuring selections of miniaturized sketches and designs. They also functioned as fashion books and order books.
***** Books printed beginning in the early Edo period using woodblocks carved with text and illustrations.