This silk kimono features a mountain scene with people – some walking, and others on donkeys or horseback, others with carts, as they wind their way down the mountainside. The scene is on the back of the kimono only. It is in a dark grayish-green base colour, with other muted blues and some luminescent colours blended into the grandiosity of the mountain scenery. Underneath the main image – there are abstract looking gold tone trees, giving an appearance of being uprooted and blowing in the wind. It is lined in a muted, lighter coloured silk.
Thankfully it has a label dating it to the Shirokiya department store in Japan somewhere between 1903 and 1940’s. It looks to be twenties or thirties to me. The store burned down in the thirties. Apparently the women in the building on the upper floor did not want to jump because they wore no underwear underneath the kimonos. As they looked down upon the growing crowd of onlookers – they could not bear to be so exposed. The story might be myth though – however widespread. Regardless – it led to a surge in the sales of western undies and pantaloons!
After doing a little more reading – this kimono would be from the Showa era 1929-80’s placing it in the thirties or forties, based on the label and artwork. Once you examine the imagery on this kimono – and then compare it to the earlier period kimonos depicting wealth, stability, prosperity and brightness – you can see this one has a more somber tone. Instead of having bright floral scenes and birds – it shows people leaving an area. It represents being dispossessed as opposed to being carefree, happy, stable – and able to demonstrate the artistic elements of a fanciful existence. There are no signs of light-hearted whimsy on this one. They are not chasing butterflies.
In looking at the political time frame that brought about the upheaval – it makes sense. This kimono would be from the thirties or possibly the forties – as displacement and unrest became increasingly prevalent in Japan, and the rest of the world. Nevertheless – it is a poignant and beautiful scene. Whatever emotions reside in the human spirit – will be expressed in the art of the time period. It is a deftly transposed reflection of their experience – and the overwhelming power that looms larger than they are. It creates a majesty all around them in the mountains as they weave their way to a destination on a downward journey.
It is a depiction of just one stream of humanity in our human history – as they were caught up and swept along by external forces beyond their control. It is another reminder, as we approach this Remembrance Day weekend – that peace and democracy has great value to all of us, regardless of what culture or historical time frame we come from.