Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
It is well known that high-quality imported textiles have long been used as status symbols by various elites around the world. Japan is no exception. From the early 17th century, despite the policy of seclusion being in place, Japanese rulers received Persian and Indian textiles and carpets as diplomatic gifts from the Dutch. How and why were imported Persian and Indian textiles used by the ruling class in Japan? Why were these imported textiles valued by the Japanese generally? What were the similarities and differences in the reception of these textiles among the Japanese and Europeans? How did the Japanese merchants and ordinary people get access to these imported textiles? In order to consider these issues, this paper will discuss, from an art historical perspective, the variety of uses of imported Persian and Indian textiles in Japan. For instance, a tradition developed of using these textiles as covers for the tea caddies used in the tea ceremony. Persian and Indian textiles were also pasted on albums which then continued to be valued by successive generations. This paper concludes with a discussion of the political and cultural significance of the use of Indian carpets in Shinto festivals. From the 18th century, Indian carpets, especially those from the Deccan, were imported into Japan by the Dutch and used as float covers during the Kyoto Gion Festival and also, as this researcher discovered, during the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival, a tradition which continues to this day.