Textile Innovation in Edo Period Japan: A Look at the Rise of the Middle Class and the Subsequent Shift in Aesthetic Taste that Occurred in Japanese Fashion Between the Years of 1615 and 1868
Date of Award
Art and Design
Art is something uniquely human. Of our own free will, we choose to create and enjoy things for purely aesthetic reasons. Perhaps the most fundamental of art forms in human history is that of textiles, maybe because while being a thing of beauty, it also meets some of our basic human needs. From the moment we enter the world, naked and red, we are wrapped and held tightly in a safe covering of fabric. There is a comfort in clothing while it is a necessary part of our lives, even if only at the very primitive level of protection from the elements. As people groups develop, prosper, and come into a distinct culture of their own, fabrics take on a much more personal role. Not only do they provide warmth and protection, but they also express greater ideas of personal taste, social roles and status (which can be both good and bad), and even religious significance. It is that turning point-when practicality meets creativity-that fascinates most. There is something innate about it-this need for personal expression, for Beauty. In Japan's history, the moment that they were given the opportunity to explore the idea of Beauty, be this a luxury brought on through economic freedom, technological advances, or otherwise, they seized it. And not only were able to replicate what they saw in other cultures, but they were able to improve those ideas, pushing them further into something new, filtering it through a deep-seated respect for the arts. This capturing of Beauty in the form of art, fashion, or decoration of any kind is invigorating. An overall sense of worth and confidence can grow out of art making and art appreciation, both of which are seen repeated throughout Japanese history. While the rise of the middle class fed into the development of culture, the development of culture also inspired the rise of the middle class-the relationship was reciprocal. The Edo Period, spanning the years between 1615 and 1865, illustrates this idea particularly well. This was a period of Japanese history that seems, to the modern historian, to have been poised for perfection in the world of textiles. Social, political, religious, and perhaps more importantly, economic events were culminating in such a way to spark a boom of creativity in this particular art form. Suddenly, a middle class emerged and this group of people who previously had a very limited aesthetic voice became the leaders of culture and definers of taste, influencing even the classes that were of a considerably higher social status and significance. What led up to the full realization of the Kosode as the Japanese costume of choice in the Edo Period? Why did the market suddenly flare up with a demand for newer and newer fabrics born of inventive techniques? In order to find this particular answer, one has to travel back to the very origins of the Japanese people, only then can one follow the distillation process that their culture has undergone, until finally reaching the realization of Japanese culture in this period.
Yamamoto, Elena, "Textile Innovation in Edo Period Japan: A Look at the Rise of the Middle Class and the Subsequent Shift in Aesthetic Taste that Occurred in Japanese Fashion Between the Years of 1615 and 1868" (2008). Honors Projects and Presentations: Undergraduate. 384.
Approved for Honors in the Department of Visual Arts, Messiah College, 2008.