The following article is based on a presentation I gave at Steamcon V titled East meets West: Meijipunk fashions in period sources. Click here for access to my bibliography.
Wafuku vs. Yōfuku
Unknown artist. Teenager Meiji Emperor with foreign representatives at the end of the Boshin War. c. 1868-1870.
Source: Parvulesco, Constantin. Samourai et Kamikaze: La tradition guerrière du Japon. France: Du May. 2009. p.55
Urban Japanese fashion has a long history of social and political affiliation, sanctioned and subversive, especially when all aspects of society were rigidly controlled by the government. Fashion in the Meiji era became equally daring and political as the Tokugawa shogunate fell in 1868 C.E. after more than 250 years.
Old and new clashed and smashed in fascinating sartorial mash-ups as a result of the mad-dash toward modernization promulgated by the newly restored Meiji emperor. These hybrid moments are delightfully steampunk, or should I say Meijipunk.
In this article I will present and investigate period visual primary resources depicting urban Meiji fashion that exhibit steampunk aesthetics. I will close with several equally steamy examples of western fashion influenced by Japanese aesthetics and materials. However, this article is not about Japonisme. Rather, the primary focus remains on Japanese interpretation and consumption of Western fashions and the result of this influence on domestic clothing. Given that the steampunk parlors both virtual and physical are all a twitter with what exactly defines the steampunk aesthetic, for the purposes of this article I am interested in the following:
- Victoriana: materials, concepts, and styles from the Victorian period (1837–1901, + 1910s C.E.)
- The influence of technology
- Cultural revolt, i.e. “punk”
- Elements of speculation or fantastic
- Hybridity and/or cultural appropriation
Before we get to the steamy stuff, first a little history is in order.
Important dates (give or take a few years)
1600 C.E. Tokugawa Shogunate & Edo Bafuku founded.
1633-39 C.E. Kaikin, i.e. maritime restrictions, enacted.
1853 C.E. Commodore Perry arrives in Edo Bay.
1856-1860 C.E. 2nd Opium War between China & Great Britain.
1858 C.E. Kaikin ends with Gunboat Diplomacy & Unequal Treaties.
1861-1865 C.E. United States Civil War.
1862 C.E. Satsuma Han participates in Great London Exposition.
1867 C.E. Paris Exposition Universelle represents Japan with national pavilion.
1868 C.E. Meiji Restoration returns Japanese rule to Emperor.
1868–1869 C.E. Boshin War results in Bakumatsu, end of the Shogunate.
1869 C.E. Emperor Meiji moves Japanese capital to Edo, renamed as Tokyo.
1870-1871 C.E. Franco-Prussian War.
1871-1873 C.E. Iwakura mission, delegates visit U.S. and Europe to renegotiate unequal treaties and gather information for Japanese modernization.
1890 C.E. Meiji constitution ratified.
1894–1895 C.E. 1st Sino-Japanese War.
1904–1905 C.E. Russo-Japanese War.
Sakoku (鎖国) = Chained Country
Left: Sword Holder. Japan, c.1804-44. Kyoto ware style ceramic. Right: Juban made from imported sarasa (calico cotton). c.1830-60.
Source: Shirahara, Yukiko. Japan Envisions the West: 16th - 19th Century Japanese Art from Kobe City Museum.
Seattle, Wash: Univ. of Washington Press, 2007. Pgs. 160, 162.
Cool stuff got in and cool stuff got out. Aesthetics were exchanged, hence the two images of fascinating artifacts above. On the left we have a sword holder fashioned in a Dutch style of pottery. On the right we have a juban, an undergarment for kimono, made from imported cotton calico using decidedly western quilting techniques. Both of these objects were made prior to the end of kaikin. Interestingly enough, kimono have a much long history of influence in European dress, popping up right in the middle of kaikin. As offered by Akiko Fukai, Chief Curator at the Kyoto Costume Institute:
Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), physician to the company's director in Nagasaki, wrote a lively description of their progress to Edo in the late seventeenth century for an audience with the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709). The director presented the shogun with a gift and in return received a “shogun's gown” padded with silk wadding. The director's companions received similar robes, generous in cut, padded, and comfortable to wear, made of gorgeous materials, and redolent of the exoticism so popular in the Netherlands at that time. These came to be prized in Holland as Japonse rocken (Japanese dressing gowns). Those preserved in Dutch museums resemble Edo-period yogi (thickly padded robes used by the Japanese as bedding) in their decorative patterns, cut, and manner of padding. In 1692, 123 such garments were received from the shogunate by the [Dutch East India Trading Company].
The image on the left below is an example of an opulent yogi. The fabric of the yogi was most likely re-purposed, cut, and tailored to meet western tastes resulting in a garment similar to the one depicted in the middle below. These dressing gowns, like the one shown on the right, became all the rage. Delightful examples still survive. For more see: Bianca M. du Mortier, "Silk Japonsche Rockts in Holland in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century," Dresstudy, no. 21 (1 April 1992), 6-9; and Marguaretta Blueking-Peeze, "Japanese Robes, a Craze," in Imitation and Inspiration, exh. cat. (Amsterdam; D'Arts,1989), 53-59.
Left: Coverlet Shaped Like a Kimono (yogi). Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Middle: A gentleman's banyan. Christie’s.
Right.Ward Nicholas Boylston in a brilliant green banyan and a cap. John Singleton Copley. 1767.
Left: Uchida Kuichi. Portrait of Meiji Emperor 明治5年). 1872. Albumen silver print.
Right: Uchida Kuichi. Portrait of Meiji Emperor 明治5年). 1873. Albumen silver print.
Meiji Empress Haruko
Left: Uchida Kuichi. Portrait of Empress Consort Haruko. 1872. Albumen silver print.
Right: Unknown artist. Empress Haruko. 1886.
Rokumeikan Style – 1880s
Chikanobu, Yoshu. Kiken buto no ryakuke = A glimpse of dignitaries dancing. 1888. Print
The Rokumeikan (鹿鳴館?) "Deer-cry Hall" was a large two-story building in Tokyo, completed in 1883. Commissioned for the housing of foreign guests, it was made famous for its grand parties and grand balls. It was also a controversial symbol of Westernization in the Meiji period as it was used to “prove” Japanese civility to the west. The children of Japanese diplomats were expected to wear western dress and learn proper western deportment so they could participate in these parties, hence in this print depicting an awkward dance lesson. One of my favorite anecdotes from this time is from a Meiji bureaucrat lamenting having to bribe his teenage daughters into eating meat at the banquets and wear western ball gowns by promising to buy them each two brand new furisode.
Dressing for the camera
Left: Unknown artist. Woman in Western dress. n.d. 1870s? Photograph.
Metadata database of old photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period. Nagasaki University Library.
Right: Unknown artist. No title. n.d. 1880s? Photograph.
Above are two period examples of real people wearing Western Fashion. The photo of the woman on the left is from the Nagasaki University Archives. The dress has an antebellum feel in spite of the fact that the photo dates from the 1870s, which reminds us of how long fashion took to travel to the fringes of the world not at the center of haute couture. The woman on the right is actually wearing a corset! Ostukai-sama deshita!
Everyday Meiji FashionWearing western clothes and hair styles was the new in-thing. Everyone in the cities wanted to be modern.
Clothing visually represented the new era and fashion conscious Edokko, citizens of Tokyo, rushed to participate. In the print depicted below we see a fascinating sartorial mash-up taking place. In the bottom left corner we see a woman wearing kimono and haori carrying a western umbrella right next to a woman in a bustle dress. In the center to the left of the horse carriages a man wears haori, kimono, and geta but finished his ensemble with a derby hat. Officers wear western uniforms and the well-to-do go about in full western garb.
Unknown. Famous Places in Tokyo: A Picture of Azuma Bridge and a View of a Distant Torpedo Explosion. 1888. Print.
Sewing was historically done entirely at home. The straight seems and simple piecing of kimono made sewing an easy endeavor. However, western wear was frightfully difficult to sew and the profession of tailoring was brand new. Yokohama, a newly openned port that was popular with western immigrants, featured some of the first tailor shops. Even then Western clothes were at first extremely rare and expensive. As a result, Western clothes rental shops came out. Middle class often could only afford maybe one or two articles of western wear. They would wear them with traditional Japanese clothing resulting in exciting hybrids depicted above and below.
Artist unknown. Second class train passengers. n.d. Print.
Source: Shimizu Isao. Meiji mangakan = exhibition of Meiji cartoons. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1979.
At this time western clothes weren’t really understood. As a result, people wore what they liked. For a while men and women would both wear shawls, a usually feminine garment. See some examples below.
Artist unknown. s.n. n.d. Print.
Source: Shimizu Isao. Meiji mangakan = exhibition of Meiji cartoons. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1979.
Left: Artist unknown. A bookstore in Meiji-era (1868-1912) Japan. n.d. Print.
Right: Inverness coat (Taisho Roman style). Wool, synthetics. c.1950-60?
Notice the moustachioed man in the black cloat with the derby hat in the bottom left margin of the print above? He cuts a dashing example of modern Meiji fashion. His inverness coat trimmed in fur was a luxurious garment that came back into fashion again in the post war period thanks to the nostalgia of the time. The the photo of a replica to the right above. Truly a retro piece.
Hidden hints of modernity
Left: Woodcut from an illustrated dodoitsu songbook, 1871.
Middle: Shimizu Isao. Meiji mangakan = exhibition of Meiji cartoons. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1979.
Right: «The botany professor,» from Kkokei Shimbun, October 20, 1908.
Because western wear was so expensive, and many middle class citizens could only afford one or two western items, the shirt came to replace juban and han’eri: traditional kimono undergarments. The flash of western clothing at the neck or the sleeve was a signal that the wearer endorsed modernization. Notice the buttoned high collar of the under-shirt worn by the man in the print picture to the above left. In the middle print see the subtle flash of the frilly sleeve at the woman's wrist. Also notice that she is reading and she wears a Gibson girl hairstyle. We'll talk more about hair later, but all these visuals signal that she is a modern woman willing to embrace new social roles.
Previously little jewelry was worn as part of kimono. In the Meiji era small decorative objects became emblems of modernity. Watches and brooches enter the vocabulary of dress. See the school marm in the above right print. At her neck is a high collar and brooch. Tucked into her waist band is a pocket watch. Peeking from the sleeve of her kimono is the frilly cuff of a tight fitted western garment. She is a modern woman: socially mobile and highly educated, hence she leads a botany lesson, as the title of the print hints.
Suteteko, underwear. Rakuten Global Market. 2013.
My favorite enduring example of Meiji hybridity are pantaloons! They continue to be offered as underwear for kimono in contemporary online Japanese stores like Rakuten. The above image comes straight from Rakuten's women's kimono section. Pantaloons are offered along side kimono bras and other traditional undergarments.
Jogakkusei = The Meiji School Girl
Unknown artist. Meiji School girl with bicycle. N.d. Photograph.
Left: Meiji School girl. Izutsu Costume Museum. Kyoto.
Right: Kindai Nihon fukusōshi = History of costume in modern Japan. Tokyo: Shiwa Joshi Daigaku, Hifukugaku Kenkyushitsu, 1971.
No more swinging sleeve.
Nothing to tug on.
No way to flirt.
Source: Kindai Nihon fukusōshi = History of costume in modern Japan. Tokyo: Shiwa Joshi Daigaku, Hifukugaku Kenkyushitsu, 1971.
Interestingly, there are several elements of convergent evolution in the fashion of this time. Take for example the bulging shape of the obi beneath the haori. It is similar in shape to the bulge of the 1880s bustle
Source: Inouye Jūkichi. Home life in Tokyo. Tokyo: Tokyo Printing, 1910.
Additionally, traditional Japanese hairstyles prior to westernization also have similarities to the Gibson Girl bouffant. Wearing the Gibson girl style, called sokuhatsu, was an emblem of modernization, hence most school marms wore it.
Kimono & Dounuki. Silk. Meiji Era.
Militarism in Male clothing
Left: Unknown artist. Jinshotai, Tosa Domain, Japanese Imperial Army in the Boshin War. 1868. Albumen print.
Right: Young Boy in Uniform, "Kobe". c.1900.
As Art History attests, western fascination with Japanese aesthetics had a huge impact on Europe. This movement, often called Japonisme, touched some of the best known visual artists of the Belle Époque, including Tissot, Whistler, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet only to name a few. Japonisme had far reaching effects in music, opera, decorative arts, and most of all fashion. Japanese textiles made a huge splash in fashion conscious France. The lavish trend-setting 1870s day dress pictured below is way ahead of its time! It is made from a repurposed Uchikake, the most formal outter garment an aristocratic Japanese woman could wear. Some of the original uchikake seams survive in this garment.
Uchikake converted into a dress. Turner Court Dress Makers. c. 1870.
Source: Kyoto Costume Institute. Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Taschen. 2002. pg 292
Below is another example of a re-purposed Meiji furisode similar to the blue garment showed earlier. This one, made in 1880s, has been refashioned into a dressing gown. Kimono were commonly worn in this way by fashion conscious European woman of the period.
Furisode converted into a dressing gown. c.1880s
Source: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
Asymmetry & EbamoyoTextile designers in Lyon, France took a cue from the Japonisme and began producing fabrics mimicking Japanese products. These three Worth dresses exhibit ebamoyo, using the entire garment as a canvas, and asymmetrical placement of decoration. Prior to this period most patterns are small and repeating and symmetry is prioritized.
House of Worth. Evening dresses. c. 1894.
Source: Kyoto Costume Institute.
Below is another example of ebamoyo at work. Like the furisode to the left, this day dress by Doucet mimics the concentration of pattern at the bottom of the hem balanced by voids of solid color that could be said to represent the Japanese aesthetic of mu, or absence. Notice the line of embellishment that follows the off-set lap of the bodice and skirt on the day dress. See how it again mimics the vertical line of foliage on the furisode, drawing your eye up to the patterns on the shoulder. O-Ebamoyo desu.
Right: Doucet, Jacques. Day dress. c. 1897. Source: Kyoto Costume Institute.
Left: Furisode. Modern era. Source: Ichiroya.
Suprlice and Nukiemon
Below is another gorgeous dress by Doucet. Notice the surplice neckline, an unusual feature prior to this period as it is inherently asymmetrical. It mimics the overlapping lapels of kimono. An interesting feature is the downward creep of the nape neckline, accentuated by the elaborate panel of embroidery on the back of the dress. Called nukiemon, the low collar on a kimono and the revealed nape of the neck represents the sexiest aspect of kimono, as seen in the styles worn by Maiko and Geiko today, and in the ensembles of traditional wedding attire (top right image). Eventually this downward droop of the collar would feature prominently in Deco fashion, as depicted in the bottom right evening coat.
Left: Doucet, Jacques. Evening dress. Ca. 1905.
Top right: Kakeshita. Modern era.
Bottom right: Unknown designer. Evening coat. 1920s.
Textiles for the West
The seemingly standard uchikake depicted below reveals something unique at a second glance. Notice the gore at the middle of the back that allows the garment to sit high on the shoulders so the collar covers the back of the neck! This “kimono” like the one’s advertised in fashion catalogs pictured on the right, was produced specifically for the west.
Kimono. Attributed to Iida & Co./Takashimaya (Japanese, founded 1831). Ca. 1910
Kimono. Vantine's: the oriental store. In 1919, $35. In 2013 , $475.
On the home front Nationalism redirected the reactionary tsunami of modernism. Instead of rejecting traditional clothes, familiar garments morphed to accommodate both tradition and modernism.
Men’s coat. Wool, silk. n.d. (1910-30?).
The above men’s coat is most likely from the early 20th century. Unlike other examples I’ve seen, whose lining mimics the lining of a haori, the lining is entirely modern. It made my head explode.
The above coat inspired me to discover and research Meiji-punk: a sub-genre of steampunk where Victoriana meets the end of the Tokugawa era and gets swept away into Meiji Japan. Again the sartorial mash-ups are delightful thanks to the rich historical sources that can be drawn upon. below are two example of pieces I'm made from second-hand kimono. On the left is a double-breasted bustle coat made from a furisode. On the right is an a-line dress with a corset obi I made from similarly re-purposed materials.
Check out more of my projects at Kimono-no-ke the Meiji-punk inspired designs I make for the steampunk maker's studio Anachronism Engine.