Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Jacqueline M. Atkins


Textiles provide excellent visual canvases for the presentation of new cultural values and ideas, and the traditional clothing of Japan, which encompasses a kimono’s individuality in its surface design, offers an ideal example. The early 20th century in Japan was a culturally and technologically expansive period in which changing societal trends and mores were reflected in textile designs that presented a visual compendium of the ‘modern.’ These designs, termed omoshirogara (interesting designs), mirrored contemporary popular culture and captured the essence of a rapidly modernizing country.

These dramatic textile designs appeared in adult kimono, but the range of designs for children—especially boys—is striking. Although many school-age Japanese boys wore Western-style clothing, younger boys wore traditional garments, and, ironically, modernity flourished in the textile designs produced for this group. Motifs ranging from cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse to new (for the Japanese) sports such as baseball were depicted in many variations, along with the latest modes of transportation: trains, autos, and airplanes, which encapsulated the soaring spirit of modernity for the Japanese. The growing militarism of the 1920s—another face of modernity—also found its way into design, with child soldiers, bombers, and battleships replacing traditional warrior imagery. These designs appeared on ceremonial garments such as omiyamairi (shrine-visiting kimono) as well as everyday kimono. Because parents, not children, chose the garments, they were, consciously or unconsciously, using their children to mirror their own values to the public at large. The imagery contributed to a sense of social cohesion by influencing, acculturating, even indoctrinating the wearer to the overt values of society.