This month’s post is inspired by a recent trip to the famous (in New Zealand) Asia Gallery and Vintage Fabric Emporium in Auckland. The Asia Gallery stocks vintage kimonos, textiles, furniture, jewellery, crafts and so much more. The walls are jam-packed full of every style of kimono and obi you could think of and I found the sheer volume of brightly coloured textiles overwhelming. As one often does when surrounded by beautiful fabrics I touched all of the different textures and was pretty much in fabric heaven. A friend and I spent an hour or so trying on kimonos and I was so overwhelmed by the vastness of the designs and colours that I simply couldn’t decide on anything and left empty handed.
Luckily for me I am continually exposed to a large collection of awe-inspiring Japanese objects through my work at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The Museum’s collections hold many traditional Japanese garments and accessories that include numerous kimono, tsuba and netsuke.
While now a popular style in today’s mainstream fashion, the kimono originated in Japan and was traditionally worn by both men and woman for formal and informal occasions. An obi, a long piece of fabric, was used to secure the kimono and tied at the back in an almost sculptural way. A netsuke, an accessory worn with a kimono, is an intricately carved miniature sculpture made from wood or ivory. Traditionally netsuke were used as a toggle to secure small pouches holding personal belongings and hung from the obi in lieu of pockets.
While I have come across kimono, obi and netsuke before during my work in other museum collections, I had never come across tsuba (pronounced su-ba) before until a few weeks ago while at work. Tsuba are small metal discs that are covered in delicate patterns and used as a hand guard used on Japanese swords, keeping the user’s hand from sliding up onto the blade. Made predominantly from soft metals such as copper and iron, tsuba often have gold, silver or bronze designs embellished onto the plate. The tsuba collection at Auckland Museum has been collected by one person, who is believed to have made each tsuba it’s own individual fabric storage bag.While we don’t know much about this particular collection the fabric bag itself is also an object of beauty in its own right and helps give a deeper provenance to these intriguing objects.
For me, being able to touch the fabrics and try on vintage Japanese kimonos in a non-museum based context while at the Asia Gallery, compared to the minimal handling (with gloves) and care given to the Museum collection of objects, was a very interesting experience and one I would recommend to any textile lover like myself. Working closely with these collections has sparked a desire to learn more about the significance of the kimono and related accessories, including netsuke and tsuba. I would also love to visit Japan and see for myself the beautiful culture and heritage from where these objects originate and connect with their stories first-hand.