Japan’s Tawaraya Workshop has produced exquisite silks for more than 500 years for uses which include Imperial garments and Noh theater costumes. A selection of these precious textiles and kimono will be featured in the unprecedented exhibition “Woven Treasures of Japan’s Tawaraya Workshop” opening at The Textile Museum on March 23. This exhibition was organized with the help of Hyoji Kitagawa, the 18th-generation head of the workshop, who was recently designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government.
“Woven Treasures” includes 37 pieces on loan from the Tawaraya workshop, including lengths of fabric and completed costumes. This is first time these silks will be exhibited in the United States and English-language research and study of these textiles has been scant. Four uchigi (colorful robes worn underneath formal outer garments) will be displayed, in addition to a kosode robe used in Noh theater. The untailored textiles include silks commissioned for the Imperial Household and the Ise Grand Shrine. The historical basis and aesthetics of each design offer greater understanding Japanese court tradition and culture.
Attention to detail has helped the Tawaraya workshop earn its reputation for producing the finest yusoku orimono (silks in patterns, weaves, and color combinations traditionally reserved for the aristocracy). The workshop bases many of its designs on historical precedents, including ancient textiles (jodai-gire) often preserved in Japan’s Buddhist temples. One example on view is a reconstruction of an 8th-century twill by Hyoji Kitagawa. In a painstaking effort to recreate this centuries-old design, Kitagawa reformulated an acorn dye and mimicked the ancient practice of wetting yarns before weaving.
One of the only workshops eligible to produce cloth for Imperial ceremonial robes, Tawaraya has a long history of commissions for state celebrations. The workshop created the silk for the robes worn by His Majesty the Emperor Akihito and Her Majesty the Empress Michiko of Japan for their 1989 coronation. “Woven Treasures” features the silks used to make these garments, in addition to silks created for the wedding of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.
Untailored silk used in the poetic Noh drama of Japan is also included in the exhibition. While Imperial costume tends to make use of subtle juxtapositions of color and design, the fabrics used for Noh theater enhance the performance with bright hues and large patterns.
The Tawaraya Workshop
The Nishijin neighborhood in Kyoto, Japan ranked alongside Lyon, France and Milan, Italy as one of the world’s greatest centers of luxury silk production for centuries. The Tawaraya workshop, led by Hyoji Kitagawa, was founded more than 500 years ago. Kitawaga learned his craft from his father, Heiro Kitagawa, and both men were designated Living National Treasures by the Japanese government for carrying forward a rich cultural tradition. As head of the workshop, Kitagawa upholds techniques and aesthetic standards passed down many centuries.
“Woven Treasures” opens as the future of the Tawaraya workshop is uncertain; the demand for fine silks has waned in recent years and Kitagawa has not pressured his sons to undertake this challenging career. This exhibition, along with its accompanying exhibition text and complimentary gallery guide, is a rare opportunity to understand a national artistic heritage from the perspective of its maker.
Exhibition Organization and Support
“Woven Treasures of Japan’s Tawaraya Workshop” is part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a city-wide event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the gift of trees from Japan. “Woven Treasures of Japan’s Tawaraya Workshop” is supported by grants from S&R Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Japan Foundation, and Asian Cultural Council.
“Woven Treasures” was curated by Lee Talbot, curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections, The Textile Museum with the guidance of Hyoji Kitagawa, head of the Tawaraya Workshop.
High-resolution images are available for download. Request a link to the online gallery.
For more information, contact Katy Clune, Communications and Marketing Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 667-0441, ext. 77.
Images: Uchigi (ceremonial court robe), 21st century. Courtesy of Hyoji Kitagawa. 18th-generation head of the Tawaraya workshop, Living National Treasure Hyoji Kitagawa.