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Japan Anonymous, Japanese
Woman's Outer Robe (Uchikake kimono), 1800-1850
65 1/2 in. x 53 in. (166.37 cm x 134.62 cm)

Object Type: Textile
Technique: Woven
Period: Edo (Japan, 1615-1868)
Credit Line: Scripps College, Claremont, CA
Accession Number: T672

Silk embroidery and stencilled designs on ivory silk damask (rinzu) ground with key-fret and orchid patterns. Rinzu damask silk was the favored fabric used during the Edo period.

Object Description
An uchikake used as a wedding robe, made of ivory damask, lined with orange silk, and lightly padded. The kimono incorporates a range of design techniques that include satin stitch embroidery, metallic thread couching, and stencils. The robe features cranes flying over stands of pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms rising from rocky outcrops. Couched golden waves undulate among the bottom edge of the kimono, and three turtles with long, bushy, couched tails climb onto the shore. The satin stitches used on the cranes, turtles, pine needles, and select plum blossoms and bamboo leaves use thick, untwisted silk threads for a glossy look. The criss-crossed stencil pattern used on the rocks and plants is in imitation of the costly shibori or resist-tie-dyeing method.

The robe is rich in symbolism, and the combinations of these auspicious elements create a kimono that clearly expresses wishes of conjugal bliss. The combination of pine, bamboo, and plum comprise the “Three Friends of Winter,” and represent steadfastness, resilience, and perseverance. The “Three Friends of Winter,” cranes, and turtles all individually represent longevity. This element of longevity, when combined with cranes as a symbol of marital fidelity because they were thought to mate for life, conveys wedding wishes for a long life of conjugal happiness. Additionally, the pronunciation of “pine” in Japanese is “matsu,” which is a homophone of “wait,” and the pronunciation of “plum” in Japanese is “ume,” which is a homophone of “birth,” so the grouping of pine and plum expresses auspicious wishes for children for the young couple.

There are areas on the cranes’ wings and bodies and also on the shells of the turtles that are bereft of embroidery, suggesting the kimono is still in an unfinished state, and so either it was never worn, or the maker just didn’t have time to finish a rushed order. An uchikake from the Philadelphia Museum of Art featured in Silken Threads, uses nearly identical design motifs, suggesting that the design template of this garment was in common usage for wedding kimonos.

For more information on kimonos, please reference:

Chung, Young Yang. Silken Threads: A History of Embroidery in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2005

Dusenbury, Mary M. Flowers, Dragons, and Pine Trees: Asian Textiles in the Spencer Museum of Art. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2004.

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