Battle Theme Haori

Seitou (征東) Haori back

Seitou (征東) Haori

In keeping with Boys Day, I’d like to share with you a few battle theme textiles from my collection.

superimposed map

I’ve superimposed a map to show the real position and size of Japan relative to the mainland.

The first piece I came into many years ago through a friend in Osaka. It is a man’s haori with a powerful image of a hawk in radiant flight over what appears to be the Sea of Japan. (Just as a geographical reminder, I’ve inserted an overlay map of Asia – it seems that perhaps the artist chose to depict Japan a tad out of scale.) The hawk represents the nation of Japan during her expansionist period of the early half of the 1900’s extending Japan’s light throughout the region of what we referred to in our own US history as Manifest Destiny. The weave is pure silk. The hawk is of a reddish tone gold and the Islands of Japan are in pure yellow gold. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out the meaning of the curiously shaped image behind the hawk. If anyone knows, please fill me in! A few years later a curious thing happened. Friends in Japan sent me what at first appeared to be a bolt of silk, but upon examination proved to be silk for a haori lining, simply never used. It looked awfully familiar, and sure enough, it is exactly the same yardage used to line this haori!

detail of back

Detail of back of yardage. Notice the turnaround on the supplemental weft.

Having the yardage allowed me to more clearly see the weave structure. To the left I’m including a detailed shot of the back. Notice how the supplementary weft threads have been added, both in silk and gold. The gold threads are flat, gold leaf over paper. These threads turn around at the edge of the design and do not continue from selvage to selvage. There was other information to be found on the bolt.

Seitou text image


Along the bottom, where the weave begins, are two characters, 征東、read seitou. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with the term, and it did not appear in any of my dictionaries. By itself, the character (く) is pronounced yu(ku). Yuku has several meanings. One is to go or advance. Also to subjugate or conquer, and to take (by force) or acquire. The second character, 東 (higashi), simply means east, or in this case, the East. Again, the two combined lead one to the notion of expanding one’s horizons. These characters are woven as a supplemental weft with gold wrapped around a silk core.

silk label image

The character in the center reads 検, which in this case means “certified”.

The small round stamp, above right, simply says 本金日本絹織物, honkin Nipponginu orimono (woven with real gold and Japanese silk). The second portion of the text is not stamped clearly, but it simply refers to the weavers co-op with which this mill is associated.

hawk over sea of Japan

Hawk Over Asia on Jimmu’s staff 成皇 Establishing the Empire


image of doll emperor

Above is a Boys Day doll depicting Emperor Jinmu with his hawk perched on his staff.

A second bolt of haori lining material with a similar motif came into my hands not long after this, above. In this case the hawk is not only casting its radiance upon all of Asia, it is also sitting upon a staff. This staff is easy to recognize as that belonging to Emperor Jinmu, the first emperor of Japan, as depicted in the Boys Day doll to the right.

image for 成皇


The characters woven into the start of this bolt show 成皇. I’m not sure if this is read seikou, or narimi. The first character, 成(す) na(su), means to build up or establish. The second character, 皇 mi, is not normally used by itself, but as part of compound words, always with the meaning of empire, or imperial.

back of haori fabric

Back view of haori fabric showing loose supplemental weft threads.

The back of this fabric shows that it is woven much as the first piece, with the gold and silk threads woven in as a supplementary weft in a satin weave.

rail lines

Detail of haori fabric showing depiction of major rail lines in China and beyond.

In examining the map of mainland Asia, you can see that a pattern has been woven in to act as a topographical guide. In addition, it looks as if all major rail lines have been included. I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing these woven treasures as much as I have. I only wish that you could feel them, too!

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Noboru 幟る

What better watch word for Boys Day than noboru? Noboru is the verb form of the noun nobori. One of the fascinating and useful aspects of Japanese language is the ability to to “spell” a word many different ways – that is to be able to write a word with many different options of kanji (Chinese characters). For instance, take the word nobori… in English, this is really the only correct way to spell it. However in Japanese it may be written in many different ways, each time changing the meaning or nuance:

幟 This nobori is correctly used to mean the pennants on display for Boys Day. The left part of the character is the symbol used for cloth, and on the right we see the character for weave. So even if you aren’t familiar with the kanji, you can tell that it has something to do with fabric.
上 This nobori means up–as in overhead.
登 This nobori means to climb, or ascend–as in go uptown, or swim upstream, or to come up on an agenda.
昇 And this one means the same as 登 with a slightly more clinging quality.

Can you recognize how they all have the same pronunciation and very similar meanings? You could, however,  have a simple sentence and by substituting only the kanji come up with greatly varying tales!

If you write koi-nobori (carp-nobori) it would take on different meanings depending on the kanji used. 鯉幟 means carp windsock. 鯉登 would mean riding a carp up a waterfall, as Kintarou is often depicted. And Kintarou could also be said to 鯉幟を登る, which would tell us that Kintarou is climbing up the carp windsock and getting into trouble again.

Sometimes to avoid confusion, Japanese will double up on a meaning. For instance, when growing up, in our neighborhood we referred to people from Japan as Japanese and Japanese from the US as Japanese-Americans. However, often times Japanese-Americans were simply referred to as Japanese for convenience sake. So in a crowd of Japanese-Americans, say at O-Bon, if a person from Japan showed up (they would usually stick out quite a bit) we would refer to him or her as Japanese-Japanese. Just as India-Indian means people from the Asian sub-continent.

So…..if you want to make sure that the person to whom you are speaking understands that when you say nobori, you mean the banner, you can say noboribata. Hata means flag. So you are basically saying flag-flag. If you say hata by itself, it means flag as in hi-no-maru , or stars-and-stripes .

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Donsu 緞子 201102

Donsu 201102


For any of you who have had a chance to see up close the incredible workmanship found in Japanese suits of armor, you won’t be surprised to hear of the valuable silks used to enhance their quality. In keeping with the Boys Day theme, this week’s textile is a donsu* (緞子) weave from Kyoto. It has a very finely executed, diminutive pattern coveted by the wealthier warriors. This type of fabric may have been used in making covers to various precious tools and weapons, as an item of luxurious clothing, or even as a trim laminated to portions of the armor itself.

Detail of Fabric Face – The circle is one inch wide.

This is an exquisitely minute pattern. So small that it is difficult to discern the true pattern unless it is enlarged. It seems to be a karakusa pattern made up of tiny leaves and  stems, chrysanthemums mum detail, and peony detail peonies.

Let’s take a look at the back side. I’ve magnified it considerably to make it easier to examine.

enlarged detail of back

Enlarged Detail of Back

In the image above, it is a bit easier to observe the weave structure without being distracted my the pattern itself.

$12 plus postage and sales tax

($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

*donsu is defined below according to the Unabridged Dictionary of Colors and Weaves, ©1977, Tankousha Publishing Company (原色染織り大辞典©昭和52年株式会社淡文社)

Donsu is a weave structure based upon combining warp and weft faced imagery, employing organzine (silk that has been additionally twisted in opposite directions, used warpwise in weaving silk fabrics) warp thread and glossy silk weft thread (made from raw silk treated in a solution to dissolve the sericin) . The play in structure and light reflection creates what the Japanese call noon and night weaving – a variation on a satin weave. (John’s translation)

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Japanese Warrior Prints

While I was in Japan in the mid ’70’s, I was assistant to Kunio Ekiguchi, author of many books on traditional paper arts. It was fun working for him because he always had a wide variety of projects going on at any given time and they all required research which entailed leafing through old books for ideas. I was in seventh heaven!

During that time I developed a fondness for a style of Japanese cartooning that was popular in the mid-1800’s and earlier. These were rather cheap block prints printed in black ink, and sometimes with a few minor colors washed in afterward. Presented here are a few samples of warriors I have dyed in this style.

warrior stencil

Lacquered Warrior Stencil


To start with, I drew a sketch of the warrior I wanted to portray. Then cut a stencil from hand-made mulberry paper that had been lacquered with persimmon tannin and smoked.

This stencil was then used to apply a rice paste resist made of rice bran (小紋糠) and powdered sweet rice (餅粉).

Rice Paste Applied to Silk


Notice how the pasted areas correspond to the holes in the stencil. The paste will prevent the areas they cover from being dyed until later.


Indigo and Ivy Applied with Brush



I prepared a blue dye using what is called indigo bloom (藍花), is made from the bubbles on top of an indigo vat. To this I added some ivy berry juice and stained the cloth by applying the colors with a brush.


Indigo and Soot Applied to Outlines


Over this I applied a very concentrated version of the indigo bloom to the outlines of the figure. And over that some concentrated soot mixed with soymilk.

Silk with Pate Removed



The dyes need to cure, so I set the fabric aside for about two months and then washed off the paste to reveal the design.

Now that the paste is gone, I can go back in and dye the face, clothing, and weapons. I used a very thin wash of soot, another of indigo, and some of rust to give the piece a little life.

Finished Piece with Touch of Gold Added


One of the qualities of the rustic block prints that I liked so much was the way in which the colors look as though they have been applied casually or spontaneously–often reaching well beyond the borders of the item being colored. I tried to emulate this effect with my dyes and brushes.

In the end, I decided to put two tiny dots of gold on the hand guards to bring out some of the colors.

To view a wider range of these designs, click on any of the warrior figures above, and you’ll be taken to my web site.

Carving stencils, making the paste, and dyeing work such as you see above are all covered in any of my katazome classes. Check out my Calendar of Events on my web page by clicking on this text, or take a look a the classes I’ll be offering in my studio this summer in Covelo, CA.

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Japanese textiles, dyeing, weaving, culture, John Marshall, katazome, somemono, natural dye