Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


The early twentieth century in Japan was both a culturally and technologically expansive period. The Taishō era (1912-1926) spurred a new sense of freedom and experimentation in many parts of Japanese culture. Fashion was not immune to the invigorating atmosphere that prevailed, and, although Western fabrics and dress were popular, especially in among the affluent in urban areas, innovations in fabric production in Japan itself also brought new and appealing products to the marketplace. Some of these textiles, several of which had been developed earlier in the century and begun to be mass-produced by 1912, were especially well-suited to traditional clothing as well as to the “adventurous” ideas and tastes of the times. These included muslin, a light, smooth, and finely woven fabric made originally of wool (later, cotton), niko-niko kasuri (“fake” or “playful” kasuri) and meisen, a type of silk (Figs. 1 and 2). Both these latter textiles used warp or warp-and-weft printing techniques to mimic the more labor-intensive and expensive traditionally dyed kasuri textiles.

These textiles lent themselves well to the innovative and exciting imagery on textiles that was capturing the essence of Japan as a rapidly modernizing country. The designers of these images intended these textiles to be distinctive and dramatically different from the traditional designs of the past that were, for the most part, based on time-honored seasonal and literary motifs and themes. Rather, these new designs mirrored contemporary popular culture and offer us today a unique visual reference of the social, cultural, and even political interests and icons of the period. The designs, which were used primarily on traditionally printed textiles (muslin was a favorite for this, as it lent itself particularly well to western chemical dyes that were also new to Japan), as well as the newer meisen and niko-niko kasuri, were termed omoshirogara—that is, interesting and/or amusing designs or patterns, and were comparable to what in the West have been called “novelty” or “conversation” prints (Fig. 3).