Contemporary Japanese Textiles

The status of textiles in contemporary Japan can be considered in four categories. Commercial textiles are a declining industry in Japan. Textile production, particularly of man-made fiber textiles such as rayon and polyester, played an important role in Japan's postwar economic recovery, but has been in decline in recent decades as production has moved to countries with lower labor costs. Some silk is produced in Japan by the country's heavily subsidized agricultural sector.

Traditional textiles continue to flourish. The Japanese government encourages the preservation of traditional arts and crafts through subsidies to "Holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties," colloquially known as "Living National Treasures." These master practitioners of their arts provide leadership to thousands of other full-time craft workers. Of approximately 100 Living National Treasures at any time, about one-third are in the field of textile arts. Notable examples include brocade weaver Kitagawa HyƓji, the late stencil paste-resist dyer Serizawa Keisuke, and yuzen dyer Yamada Mitsugi.

Fashion textiles have received significant support from some of Japan's internationally famous fashion designers, notably Issey Miyake, whose innovative use of such material as tube-knitted jersey has bolstered Japan's fine textile industry.

Art textiles, or fiber arts more broadly, are a thriving field of Japan's contemporary art scene, and have achieved international recognition through such exhibitions as "Structure and Surface" (New York, 1999) and "Through the Surface" (London, 2004). A number of individual fiber artists have won international reputations, including Arai Junichi, known for his innovative use of techno-textiles; Sudo Reiko, known for her sculptural woven fabrics; and Tomita Jun, who uses traditional dyeing techniques to produce contemporary textile art.

See also Dyeing; Embroidery; Ikat; Kimono; Yukata.


Dusenbury, Mary. "Textiles." In The Kodansha Encyclopedia of

Japan. 9 vols. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1983. McCarthy, Cara, and Matilda McQuaid. Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1999. Yang, Sunny, and Rochelle Narasin. Textile Art of Japan. Tokyo: Shufunotomo, 2000.

John S. Major

TEXTILES, MIDDLE EASTERN Even before the Islamic period, the Middle East was a nexus of Eurasian textile production and trade. The complex of trade routes commonly referred to as the Silk Road reached their western end at the ports of the eastern Mediterranean. Inevitably these markets were also centers of textile production. The spread of Islamic rule in the seventh and eighth centuries encompassed and incorporated the previous textile industries of the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires. In the early Islamic period textile design was derived from that of their predecessors, but Islamic cultures soon evolved their own forms of expression. During the Middle Ages, the textiles of the Middle East were highly prized goods that in due course stimulated the development of indigenous European production. The connection between Islamic and European cloth can be seen in the extensive textile terminology that is derived from Persian, Arabic, or Turkish, including terms such as damask, taffeta, cotton, muslin, seersucker, and mohair.

In the Islamic world, textiles were highly valued goods, accepted as tribute in lieu of taxes in some periods. Gifts of textiles and garments were presented to honor officials or visiting ambassadors. In a part of the world where much of the population could claim nomadic antecedents, interiors were primarily furnished with textiles, used to cover floors, walls, cushions, and to create beds and storage of all kinds. Gifts were presented in a textile wrapper, and the more elaborate the workmanship of the wrapper the greater the honor intended. Textiles were also held to have the power to protect or harm, and so inscriptions and symbols were frequently incorporated into them to this end. In the century following the death of Muhammad, representation of living creatures were banned, particularly in the Sunni tradition. Islamic design developed its own metaphorical language, utilizing geometry, calligraphy, vegetal, and architectural forms. However, it should be pointed out that in some Islamic textiles human and animal figures do appear, particularly in Persian and Central Asian silks and carpets.

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