Reflections on Traditional Japanese Textile Designs and Japanese Aesthetics
Above and below are some pictures of fabrics we recently posted to our site. We wanted to share here our reflections on the meaning to us Japanese as to the designs seen in Japanese textile arts and kimonos. We are often asked, "What does (Japanese symbol) mean? We usually give a short simple answer (like, "Cranes symbolize long life"), but thought we might share here a longer answer such as we give to our more persistent questioners. So here is the story of our Japanese vintage kimono fabrics and our sense of what the traditional designs mean to us:
Our Japanese fabrics are vintage -- and some antique -- made of a wide variety of types of silk, cotton, muslin and blends which we cull from sources throughout Japan. While most of our site's products are our popular bulk kimono packages (10lbs & up), we also have a nice assortment of Japanese fabrics by pieces and lots in various collections on our web site. We gather these along with our whole-kimono picks and offer them in their own spaces on this website. Those pieces are where you'll see the motifs we're discussing here.
With rare exceptions, our vintage and antique fabrics reveal the many designs and motifs which have evolved in Japanese arts over the centuries, which includes their textile arts via kimonos. For each fabric on our site we give relevant cultural information as part of the kimono fabric description.
As for the meanings of symbolism, unlike some other Asian cultures which have specific singular meanings for each symbol, we Japanese go more for the feeling which a design or picture evokes in addition to its literal meaning. For example, while cranes may symbolize long life, for me the cranes have more connotations than just that singular meaning.
For those of us raised in Japanese culture, when we see motifs in artwork they evoke more in us than an idea, but rather they stir up feelings. For example, cherry blossoms not only symbolize Spring renewal, they also bring up feelings about various values -- such as the impermanence of things (a Buddhist concept). So even as we feel awe at the blossoms' beauty and cherish the moment of observing them, we simultaneously feel a tinge of sadness at the passing nature of things in life in general. Like life, the symbols embody opposites and can be seen as happy or sad,depending on ones perspective.
Or, when we see a picture of two cranes in flight (common in Japanese art) we also feel a warmth such as we would get if we admired an elderly married couple sitting or walking together; we would feel a sense of intimacy, admiring the couple's closeness; They bring to our awareness an appreciation for their long life of love and loyalty to each other; all of this just when we see the pair of cranes in a painting or on a kimono. So, you see, as in so many Japanese things, the implicit and the context provide the fuller and deeper meaning, not just what is being physically observed.
So, in short, we sense the feeling and meanings behind the motif, rather than just a single intellectually corresponding idea. Of course, this is just our humble opinion offered for your reflection. I'm sure some scholar somewhere may take me to task on this, but I share it as my own view and experience.
Pictures of recent fabrics on www.yokodana.com are below:
Gosho Ningyo (Palace Dolls) Motif; #5249: