Date of this Version
Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).
Using examples from the Nukata Collection of Japanese “boro,” or rags, this paper assesses how such extensively repaired, patched, and pieced utilitarian textiles reflect Japan’s social stratification, agriculture, economy, and trade. These humble cloths, tangible remnants of stories lived by the common people – farmers, fishermen, and lumberjacks – who lived in rural areas along the Sea of Japan and northeastern Honshu Island until several decades ago, point to a material’s aesthetic and functional transformation.
A majority of pieces in the collection are futon, bedding which are made of or patched with various shades of blue fabric pieces mostly recycled from cotton clothing and other castaway rags brought via the “Kitamaesen,” a commercial shipping route servicing the northern sea coast, used by ships originating from the port of Sakai for transporting fish meal, oil, and collecting “rice tax.”
By way of China, cotton cultivation was brought to Japan. By the eighteenth century it was firmly established in the country’s warmer regions where commoners could enjoy this new material just like their more well-to-do urban counterparts. However, cotton was precious in these areas where available fibers were the local hemp, ramie, mulberry, etc. Owing to a harsh economy and long bitter winters, the inexpensive, warm cotton cloths were a treasure. High demands led to cotton’s transformation into regional folk textile traditions such as sakiori, rag weaving; sashiko and kogin, stitching or quilting combined with bast fibers, as well as vernacular boro.