at Sen-Oku Hakuko Kan
in the Roppongi, Nogizaka area
This event has ended - (2007-01-06 - 2007-03-11)
A whole range of life experience is reflected through the garments themselves: the dresses were actually worn by various women during their period of use and thus form part of a real life narrative. The exhibitions curator Kaoru Morozumi told me she wanted visitors to have an idea of the lives of the women, and this led her to include other items in the display as well as clothing.
The exhibition is displayed chronologically, although with a little cross-over between sections. Room One contains items from the 18th to 19th centuries and Room Two from the 19th to 20th centuries. At first this doesn’’t seem to have any immediate relevance as the types of costumes on display are of varying styles. However, it does highlight the late twentieth century’s inclusion of more Victorian influences as represented by two nurses’ outfits and a ball dress. It also creates an interesting juxtaposition between what we usually think of when considering traditional Japanese costume, revealing an apparent convergence of western and eastern influences. In fact, both rooms contain a plethora of things: clothing, cooking utensils, writing artifacts, hair combs, shoes, musical instruments and other small delights. The range of costumes (including baby dresses and futabata) serves to show the attention to detail and care that is taken whatever context a garment is worn in. Showing the garments together heavily emphasizes different structural concerns (the Japanese dresses are created out of one main piece of fabric with the detail being mainly focused within the embroidery). There is, however, a certain crossover in terms of the garments’ strong functional use and covering of all the female body but the Japanese items retain more of a relationship to movement. Some of the earlier garments on display as some are similar in shape to Noh Theatre garments, which are also in the same collection. Thus they appear both heavy and weightless, bright but elegant balancing and contrasting features.
The first and strongest impression for any potential viewer would perhaps be the exquisite craftsmanship of all the items on display. The detail within the embroidery is beautiful in both pattern and texture; the embroidered flowers seem to stand out with as though they are three-dimensional. There is a real sense of the time taken to make each section of the cloth and design a pattern. The strength of Japan’s attachment to the changing seasons is evident within the katabira dresses as the summer ones are thinner, contrasting with the heavier and more formal furisode (long-sleeved kimono).
The second and almost abstract aspect of the show that stands out is the intensity and use of colour. Fashion students may be especially interested in this show as the simple style of the display serves not to distract from the costumes themselves, emphasizing the shape, pattern and colour. The costumes may be old but they retain their original freshness and this is especially evident when displayed alongside photographs of the owners wearing them. The photos look strangely dated and comical while the garments themselves could be on loan from any Harajuku fancy dress shop – bright, bold and bolshy. Perhaps the vibrant colours of the new film Sakura are a more accurate reflection of ‘’traditional’’ Japan than the oatmeal colours we see on many TV dramas!
This exhibition is worth seeing for the craftsmanship and attention to detail within the items alone. Having clothing displayed alongside ritual and everyday items creates an interesting nexus where dresses are not merely left-over constructions of a particular cultural milieu but reminders of our connection to the past and the Japanese attention to detail. As an interesting attempt to contextualize the garments while highlighting their aesthetic charms, you leave this exhibition with an intimate insight into the everyday life of Japanese women over the last few hundred years.