Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Hiroko Karuno.


Looking back at the history of Japanese textiles, the beginning seems to be braiding and/or netting fibers made from tree bark or tall grass (Jomon period - approximately C13th - C10th BC.). Weaving seems to appear after the mid-Jomon period. Silk was brought into Japan in the late-Jomon to the Yayoi period (600BC-200AD), and for a long time its use was restricted to the upper class. During the Momoyama period (1573-1603) cotton seeds were introduced and cotton grown in Japan. By the mid-Edo period (1603-1868) cotton cultivation had spread over the southern part of Japan, and cotton became available to commoners. According to Kunio Yanagida, until cotton became known to the ordinary people in the 17th century, they wore cloth made form bast fibers, such as hemp, ramie, kaju (paper mulberry), liden, wisteria, etc. Garments made from tree or grass fibre have been used to protect ordinary people for a few thousand years. Many stories have been told about the brilliant silk fabrics of japan but little is known about bast fibre cloth. Ordinary people's outfits appear in old picture scrolls and we can guess they may have been made form bast fibres, however few actual examples survive. they were worn out so completely that the tiny fragments left were used as part of the fuel supply for the fireplaces.