Article: Ainu Culture – Garments and Embroideries of the Ainu People

Image by Keisuke Fukamizu

This article, with text by Kosuke Ide and fantastic photographs by Keisuke Fukamizu, examines the clothing of the Ainu people of Hokkaido island, Japan. Ide explains that hundreds of years ago these were made from the animal skins – there was a reference to them wearing “bird skin” as late as the eighteenth century. Over time they began to use fibres obtained from the inner bark of elm and linden trees to weave their textiles.  The cloth woven from these fibres was known as attush, and was sewn into garments primarily used as work clothing. These garments were decorated with patterns embroidered in cotton. Later, as cotton became cheaper and more accessible, they began to use it for their clothing rather than the attush. However the art of making attush has not died out completely. It is still practised by Rumiko Fujitani, using a traditional backstrap loom.

Ide also interviewed Nobuko Tsuda, who has conducted research on traditional Ainu garment culture and for the past 20 years has served as a curator at the Hokkaido Ainu Centre in Sapporo. I was particularly struck by her appreciation of what she refers tom as the “natural imperfections” of Ainu embroidery done in the traditional way, as opposed to the “perfection” which can be achieved using more modern methods.

The full article, which really does have some wonderful images, can be accessed on the visvim website here. Please note that this does take quite a while to load – presumably because of the quality of the images.

Textiles of Japan by Thomas Murray has recently been published by Prestel and contains over 100 pages on Ainu textiles. This book is already available in Europe and will go on sale in the US from 29 January 2019.

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Exhibition: Master – An Ainu Story

 

Exhibition dates: 12 October – 15 December 2018

Growing up in Japan has never been easy for the Ainu people. Since Japan took over Hokkaido in 1869, they have struggled to be seen as equals in their own land – only being officially recognised as the indigenous people of Japan in 2008.

Through a series of photos taken by Adam Isfendiyar, this exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, will take the audience on a journey through the recent history of the Ainu people, incorporating stories shared by Kenji Matsuda – head of the Akan Ainu Preservation Society.

Over a two-year period, Adam lived with Matsuda san in the Ainu community of Akan – one of the 3 main Ainu settlements in Hokkaido. Matsuda san grew up being discriminated against in his own land because of his Ainu heritage and gives a rare insight into the life of the indigenous people of northern Japan.

There is very little documentation on the Ainu in English and few Japanese know much about them. It is thought that there may be up to 200 000 people of Ainu decent living in Japan today, but due to the history of discrimination against them only 10 percent of that number will admit to having Ainu roots.

This exhibition looks at the personal story of a man who carried the legacy of shame from his grandparents generation and has tried to help revitalise this deep and rich culture that the Japanese government attempted to eliminate at the end of the 19th century.

Open daily except Mondays from 10:30am – 5pm, and until 8pm on Thursdays.

Note: Adam Isfendiyar will be at the Gallery on the following dates from 5:30pm to meet and give guided tours:

8 November, 22 November, 13 December

For more information visit the website of The Brunei Gallery, SOAS

 

Exhibition: Mingei of Japan – Treasures New and Old from the Museum’s Collection

Mingei International Museum - Mingei of Japan

Exhibition dates: 2 April – 2 October 2016

After the Mingei International Museum’s year and a half devoted to American folk art, craft and design it seems appropriate to return to Mingei’s origins and to plumb again the rich core of the museum’s collection, its Japanese arts of daily life. Brief selections from Soetsu Yanagi’s writings (he coined the word mingei) accompany and give context to a wide range of objects, not thought of as art until Yanagi’s inspired insight, but today recognised as beautiful and timeless.

Recent gifts and purchases will be featured along with long-held objects that are well-known to museum members and much admired by them. Among donated treasures to be seen for the first time will be important textiles: indigo-dyed bedclothes, futon covers, door hangings, wrapping cloths, kimono, kimono belts made from recycled material and painted Boys’ Day and birthday banners.

A large selection from 153 mostly nineteenth-century Shinto ema paintings just acquired by purchase will also be exhibited for the first time. These are folk paintings, depictive of animals familiar and exotic, of vegetables and people in a truly disarming manner. They were sold at shrines (and still are) and hung there by devotees as offerings to accompany prayers.

Among familiar treasures will be baskets, soba cups, tea kettles and pots, cabinets, distinctive coats of the Ainu (Japan’s indigenous people), kimono of national treasure Keisuke Serizawa, a selection of anonymous pottery as well as that of famed potters Kanjiro Kawai, Shoji Hamada and Tatsuzo Shimaoka.

For more information, visit the website of the Mingei International Museum, San Diego, California, USA.