This week I got my first meisen kimono. I found it at a secondhand store for ridiculously cheap, and it’s in surprisingly good shape.
There are a few holes where I suspect insects have eaten through, but they’ve been lovingly repaired and the lining looks like new. Overall, I was extremely happy to add this kimono to my collection.
I was even happier because the day before, I had come across this video from NHK.
The entire video is a great resource, but if you only want to see the part on meisen, skip to 22:00.
For a long time now, I have been trying to identify different types of weaving, dying, and kimono types just by sight alone. I often shop in secondhand stores that carry lots of different items and the clerks are not necessarily experts on kimono. Meisen is a word that I have seen several times during my research, however the descriptions were often vague or could be applied to many different types of kimono. The only distinctive thing I learned was that they were produced in the first half of the 20th century and production stopped around the 1950s so I was guaranteed to never find a new meisen kimono. After watching this video and doing a little more research on meisen, I finally feel confident in identifying them myself. Hopefully you’ll be able to identify what makes these kimono so unique too.
Meisen is a rough silk fabric. The cocoons that are used have been spoiled by the larvae growing inside, so they can’t be used to create pure white silk (this is very similar to tsumugi, another fabric that uses silk cocoons that are not acceptable for making traditional kimono fabric). Because the silk that comes from these cocoons is not pure white, meisen uses bright colors to hide any discolouration on the silk itself.
Meisen is a woven fabric (as opposed to a dyed fabric). The threads are dyed before weaving using a method called kasuri. In this method, the threads are stretched out taut on a table. A stencil is used to dye the threads (both the warp and weft threads) and after this, the threads are woven together. The stencils never completely line up so a hallmark of meisen is that the designs have blurred edges. Kasuri is a branch of a dyeing technique called ikat. There are many ways to produce ikat dyeing, but this is easiest and most economical way.
The use of less than perfect silk and the kasuri dyeing made meisen very affordable and therefore very popular.
Meisen design is not influenced by the classic nature and seasonality based kimono designs. The designs on meisen are bold, modern, abstract, and not what you would expect from a kimono at all. The designs made meisen kimono extremely fashionable when they were new, but just like new fashions nowadays, they faded quickly. Meisen were worn for a few seasons, then a new one was bought to meet the new fashions of the time. And just like today, most people didn’t want to wear their parent’s old, vintage clothes if they didn’t have to, so a lot of meisen kimono sat in closets and drawers for a long time. It’s lucky for us that they’re starting to be rediscovered again today.
That’s all for meisen from me. Hopefully you can use some of this information to identify your own meisen kimono!