Woven Treasures of Japan's Tawaraya Workshop

World recognized workshop produces Imperial garments

Ranked alongside Lyon, France, and Milan, Italy, the Nishijin neighborhood located in Kyoto is considered one of the world’s greatest centers of fine silk production for centuries. The Tawaraya workshop takes center stage in producing exquisite and luxurious silk garments since its founding more than 500 years ago. The workshop is well-recognized for producing garments for the Imperial family as well as Noh theater costumes. Currently on view at The Textile Museum in Washington D.C. is a very special exhibit, “Woven Treasures of Japan's Tawaraya Workshop,” which will run until August 12, 2012.

The exhibit was organized with the help of Hyoji Kitagawa, the 18th generation head of the Tawaraya workshop and who was recently designated by the Japanese government as a National Living Treasure. Kitagawa learned his craft from his father, Heiro, another National Living Treasure designee. The title was bestowed on them because they have upheld the techniques and aesthetic standards that have been passed down for centuries.

The exhibit has on view 37 pieces on loan from the workshop. This is the first time these garments and lengths of fabric have been on display in the United States. Four colorful uchigi (robes worn under formal outer garments) are on exhibit, as well as a kosode robe used in Noh theater. Among the textiles on view are untailored textiles that include silks that were commissioned for the Imperial Household and the Ise Grand Shrine.

The Woven Tawaraya workshop has been recognized for its attention to detail and producing fine yusoku orimono (silks in patterns, weaves, and color combinations that were traditionally used by Japan’s aristocracy). Many of the current designs are based on ancient textiles that have been preserved in Japanese Buddhist temples. An example on display includes a reconstruction of an 8th century twill. To create it, Kitawaga used an acorn dye and mimicked the ancient practice of wetting yarns before weaving.

The exhibit also features the silks used to make the robes for His Majesty the Emperor Akihito and Her Majesty the Empress Michiko of Japan for their 1989 coronation. Also on display are the untailored bright and bold patterned silks used the Noh drama of Japan.

Despite the Tawaraya workshops worldwide recognition and prestige, its future remains shaky due the decreasing demand for fine silks in recent years, as well as the uncertainty of whether the current Kitawaga generation will continue to take part of and uphold the family’s artisan profession.

For more information about Woven Treasures of Japan's Tawaraya Workshop, please visit http://textilemuseum.org.

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