Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


Woodblock prints, photographs and contemporary sketches will be used to illustrate the rapid change to Western dress in Japan and its impact on the importation and imitation of Western textiles. Between 1853 and 1868, American Commodore Perry forced the opening of Japan to foreign trade. The old fashioned Shogun was overthrown, and young, forward thinking Emperor Meiji took the throne. Under Emperor Meiji, the Japanese government introduced the wearing of Western style clothing for all public occasions, both social and official. These events brought Western textiles to Japanese dress: military uniforms were the first to use both woolen cloth and European styles. Wool was virtually unknown in Japan before the opening to foreign trade. Tailors were non-existent; the entire trade of tailoring had to be imported for these new uniforms. The first Japanese woolen mill was started in 1878.

In 1898 three million yards of English and German woolen fabric were being imported. The symbolism of Western style versus traditional Japanese was especially vivid during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, when the government armies wore wool and the rebels wore cotton and silk. By the 1880s, upper class Japanese women were wearing Western fashions made of imported textiles to social dances, garden parties and charity events. Traditional Japanese textile arts showed up as embroidered embellishment on the Western style garments. At this same time, traditional Japanese clothing, especially over-garments, began to be made in wool. The importation and imitation of Western textiles transformed the Japanese textile industry and the way a nation dressed. Meiji period (1868-1912) woodblock prints provide visual interpretation of this transformation.