Kobe Fashion Museum: Kimono Exhibit

Literally a few hours ago, I got back from Kobe and seeing the special exhibit at the Kobe Fashion Museum, “Kimono From The Kofun To The Edo Period.”  I’m lucky that Kobe is only a couple of hours from where I live.  If you are able to go before the exhibit ends on January 12, 2016 I highly recommend it.  The official website and information can be found here.

So how was the exhibit you may be asking.  Well, unfortunately, I couldn’t take any photos while I was in the galleries, so this post will be very text heavy I’m afraid.  But here were some of the things that struck me the most.

The exhibit was large.  Three whole galleries to explore.  I came around one corner and expected it to be over when to my delight, there was another great hall full of kimono for me to drool over.  The galleries were set up so that I made two or three trips through the hall to see everything.  Unfortunately, there was very little English.  The woman at the front counter gave me an English pamphlet with some info about the different eras, but it wasn’t that helpful I’m afraid.  I only wish I knew more kanji.  The placards beside each piece were full of info, but there were so many technical, specialized, and advanced kanji that I couldn’t read them.

I seem to remember reading somewhere before I went that these pieces would be reproductions.  If they were, I couldn’t tell.  most of them had small stains, rips, and repairs in them.  By the end of the exhibit, I was convinced that they were real pieces from the time periods.  If they weren’t, then my hat goes off to the curators who managed to age the pieces so convincingly.

One thing that particularly struck me was the apparent difference in width between the sleeve and the back panels of older kimono, especially since I’m used to looking at modern kimono.  First, the sleeves were much more rounded back then, and they were smaller.  I don’t know if it was just the small sleeves that made the back panels look wider, but it looked that a bolt of kimono cloth used to be wider in the past than it is now.

And they were small!  I’m always struck by how much shorter people were in the past.  Even if the kimono were wider, there is no way they would fit my 165 cm monstrous frame!

There is a book available from the museum for 1500 yen and I highly recommend it (you have to ask for it at the front desk).  It makes up for the lack of photos in the exhibit because it has photos of every single piece in it arranged by era.  The part that I was particularly thrilled about was for many pieces, they will list the techniques used to create the piece with illustrations.  In the back, there is a directory with each technique and an explanation.  I’m looking forward to sitting down and painstakingly translating it (or asking somebody with better Japanese to do it for me!)

The museum’s permanent exhibit was also really interesting.  It included different types of dress from France, England, and America from the time of Napoleon until modern day.  These were all reproductions and they clearly stated it on the placards, so it makes me believe all the more that the kimono were genuine pieces.

Overall it was a great experience and I hope you can get out to see it of you are in the area!

A page from the souvenir book showing the progression of the kimono through the different eras.

A page from the souvenir book showing the progression of the kimono through the different eras.

An example page from the souvenir book.  This is a good example of what I was describing with the small sleeves and seemingly wider back panels.  You can also a list of the different techniques used to create this kimono at the bottom.

An example page from the souvenir book. This is a good example of what I was describing with the small sleeves and seemingly wider back panels. You can also a list of the different techniques used to create this kimono at the bottom.

Ebi (海老) lobster/shrimp

Name: Ebi (海老) lobster/shrimp

Seasonal Association Winter

When To Wear It: all year

Auspicious: yes

History: Ebi can play two different roles as a motif, that of a seasonal motif, and that of an auspicious motif.

Seasonal: Ebi is a staple ingredient in Osechi, the traditional New Year’s selection of food.

Auspicious: The hunched back and whiskers of the ebi are features that are also attributed to an old man and because of this, ebi is considered a symbol of long life. It is often nicknamed the old man of the sea.

Ebi can also be referred to as Ise Ebi (伊勢海老) which is a particular species of spiny lobster found in Mie prefecture.

Identification: Ebi will resemble a lobster or a shrimp with a curved back, long whiskers on its face, and six legs.

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