The Brooklyn Museum has been at the forefront of collecting mingei (Japanese folk art) since our curator Stewart Culin (1858–1929) began acquiring it during two collecting trips to Japan, in 1909 and 1913–14. This collecting tradition continued and was highlighted by special exhibitions and publications of our permanent collection of mingei in the 1980s.
The simple indigo-dyed asa kimono shown here was made for commoners. It comes from Echigo Province (modern-day Niigata Prefecture), a snowy, maritime environment located along the coast of the Sea of Japan opposite Sado Island. The overall pattern of small white check designs on the dark blue ground was achieved by katazome (stencil dyeing). The robe itself is made of asa (hemp, ramie, jute or flax), while the shoulder and hip areas are lined with white cotton cloth. Cotton was scarce in northeastern Japan because the climate was too cold to grow the material locally.
The more elaborate kimono displays kogin embroidery, a traditional method of quilting local to the Tsugaru Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture, in the Tohoku region, also facing the Sea of Japan. The darkness of the blue base of the kimono is dependent on the number of times the threads were dipped in the indigo dye. To achieve this dark, rich color, a large quantity of expensive indigo was required on both layers of the robe. Tsugaru is a rice producing region with a prosperous economy that could sustain such luxuries. The panels of the kimono are covered in counted-thread embroidery, with geometric patterns highlighted by the heavy white kogin stitching against the deep blue-black ground.
Embroidered cotton cloth
This item is not on view
Gift of Dr. Hugo Munsterberg
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Kogin Kimono, 19th century. Embroidered cotton cloth, 50 x 45 1/2 in. (127 x 115.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. Hugo Munsterberg, 86.188.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 86.188.2.jpg)
overall, 86.188.2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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