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History of Japanese Textiles

Japan has a rich history with textiles.  The first fabrics were made by the original inhabitants of Japan (Jōmon Culture) who wove cloth from plant fiber.  Later Japan was invaded by people from the north that introduced the Yayoi culture which began in roughly 300 BCE.  However, recognizable Japanese fabrics didn’t start until the Yamato period.


The textile industry first began to take off during the Yamato period (300-700 CE).  At that time the monarchy wanted more luxurious fabric materials and designs to show off their high status.  This was right around the time that the silk trade was taking off and making it one of the most sought after fabrics.  The introduction of Buddhism in Japan furthered the desire for more textiles as they were often required for religious purposes.  

The History of Japanese Textiles I J-Life International

Some textiles were imported from mainland Asia but much of it was developed in Japan.  Weavers, dyers, and other textile workers from China and Korea were encouraged to come to Japan under the patronage of the Japanese court.  The textile industry was completely regulated and patronized by the state.  The best textiles were typically made in Imperial workshops.  Early techniques included: applique, embroidery, and braiding.  Detailed brocades were used as a status symbol.  


During the Nara Period (710-785) Buddhism grew and the textile trade boomed.  The Heian Period (795-1185) saw domestic production increase drastically.  Brocade and embroidery became even more popular than before.  Furthermore, during the Heian period there was increased use of pattern woven cloth as a base for patterned dyeing.  The use of multiple colors in different layers of clothing was one of the most significant trends at this time, and thus there were significant efforts made in order to expand dyeing methods.


During the military rule of the Kamakara (1185-1233) and Muramachi (1338-1477) international trade increased and there were significant numbers of new designs and materials.  Additionally, technology advancements including a multi harness loom, and better draw looms, led to more complex silk garments.  Cotton was introduced during this time and became widely used by the lower classes replacing the use of hemp fiber.

The History of Japanese Textiles I J-Life International

Following this time there was a long period of civil war that ravaged the country.  Starting in 1601 (until 1868) was the Tokugawa Shogunate that saw the civil war end and once again textile design took off.  There was increased focus on Kosodes and Kimonos especially as they became a way to distinguish between the classes.  The Noh theater was made at this time, patronized by the military.  This led to increased demand for luxurious fabrics in order to make beautiful costumes for it’s performers and it’s attendees.


In 1868 Japan saw the restoration of Imperial Rule.  This led to a wave of modernization for Japan that left the traditional clothing to the side.  Traditional Kosodes and Kimonos came back in style for a short time but by the end of WW2 industrialization had pushed the traditional clothing on the back burner more as a national costume instead of everyday wear. 

History of Japanese Textiles I J-Life International


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