Translated by MATCHA_En
A Rare Sight: Asakusa's Textile Culture And Ukiyo-e Art Museum
Asakusa is home to Amuse; a textile culture and Ukiyo-e Museum that displays clothing, folk-art, and even has ties to the movie director, Akira Kurosawa.
Written by MATCHA
The Asakusa area, in the Taito ward of Tokyo, is home to the largest number of traditional crafts workshops in Japan. Densely populated for ages, the area gave birth to several tools and customs that supported and gave a high quality of life to its people.
Did you know that there are places within Asakusa that allow you to see and feel the beauty and techniques of the old Japanese traditions?
Specifically, we are talking about the Amuse Museum, which is found next to the eastern entrance of Sensoji Temple, the Nitenmon Gate.
Inside, there are several exhibits and establishments featuring Wa (or traditional Japanese) art, and technical skill. For example, there is the Wa Select Shop, where you can purchase crafts, folk art, and antiques, as well as the Ukiyo-e Theater, where you can look at a digital version of the Boston Museum of Arts ukiyo-e collection.
In this article, we'll focus our attention on the Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Art Museum permanent exhibits.
"BORO" and the Folklorist Chuzaburo Tanaka
Chuzaburo Tanaka (left) and director Akira Kurosawa
The Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Art Museum exhibits consist mostly of the personal collection of the folklorist Chuzaburou Tanaka. The exhibit centers around the clothing (BORO) and Aomori living-ware from the Edo Period to the beginning of the Showa Period; a collection totaling about 30,000 articles, of which 786 have been designated as important cultural properties.
The majority of the pieces were collected by Tanaka himself by visiting private homes, and receiving them from elders and citizens of the area. The collection includes undergarments that were actually in use at one point, which shows both Tanaka's hard work, and the trust that was placed in him by the residents.
The collection is extremely important in understanding Japan's clothing culture, and even movie director Akira Kurosawa used the collection to help him with his movies. The exhibit includes a section dedicated to movie costumes (3rd exhibit room), where you can really feel the connection between Kurosawa and Tanaka.
There are 4 exhibition rooms in total. Each is based on its own unique concept.
Exhibit Room 1: Discover the Link Between Clothing and Life
From here we will have a look at the appeal of the Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Art Museum one exhibit at a time. The first exhibit features the clothing that Japan's common people once wore, which were patched together over generations, and are also known as "BORO".
This is a donja, which was used as an alternative for a futon. It is a very large, thick piece of clothing.
At night, the donja would be pulled across the floor and the whole family would wrap themselves in it and sleep together.
The torn parts are reinforced and used across generations. By the way, this museum allows you to freely touch the items on display. You can feel the history and lives of the families that used these items on the fabric, whose thick layers create a frayed texture on the surface.
This is known as a hodo. It is generally used as a bedding cloth, but is also placed under a woman when giving birth and would be the first cloth that touched a newborn infant.
A hodo is made from sewing together the clothes of a family's ancestors. New family members would be born as though into the arms of the spirits of their forefathers. There is no better way to greet the newest life in a long line of generations.
Some of the BORO have decorations on the cuffs that stand out. You can see the efforts of people aspiring to show off their own fashion since even with limited resources.
The museum director, Mr. Kiyoshi Tatsumi, presents these exhibits with the belief that "fashion is a pursuit rooted in human nature".
To adorn oneself with clothing is not unlike the males bird's attempt to impress the female with its plumage. One could say that to "be beautiful" is in some ways connected with "creating life".
Exhibit Room 2: The Everyday Beauty of Folk-Tools
The 3rd floor isn't limited to fabrics, and includes all sorts of objects from everyday life. These are also items gathered by Tanaka in Aomori.
Salmon-skin boots: very much what you would expect from a northern region like Aomori.
These are the outfits worn by the firefighters in the local fire-department. They are thick and made from fire-resistant materials, each with its own unique embroidery inside. Aside from decorating the interior of the outfit, these patterns also allowed for the identification of those who may have died during a fire.
The second exhibition room brings together both beauty and practicality.
In the back of the second exhibition room, are earthenware items excavated from Japan's Tohoku region. Like the other exhibits, you can touch all of the items here as well.
There aren't many places in Japan where you can touch earthenware used over 5000 years ago. You can feel its rough texture and the connection it has with the past.
Exhibit Room 3: See Behind the Scenes of the Film "Dreams"
Exhibit room 3 displays the connection between Chuzaburo Tanaka and director Akira Kurosawa. Tanaka provided Kurosawa with material for the production of his movie "Dreams" (Yume).
The clothes used during production and photos of the filming are displayed on panels.
This apron is made from wool, and features cloth with a vivid pattern that was popular for a brief period in the early half of the 1900's. It was made in an era where wool was still precious, and was woven together, one thread at a time with care, to add color to this apron.
Exhibit Room 4: Painting-like BORO Pieces
The fourth room is a special exhibition which contains not only Tanaka's collection, but also boro from all over the country.
The boro in the square frames are likened to paintings.
Unlike the boro from Aomori, which were used under severe conditions, you can see how the shading of the colors and the designs differ from area to area.
The Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Museum is a place where you experience the connection between "person and person" and "past and present" through clothing and folk art.
Culture, fashion, history: you'll find new knowledge, and enjoy yourself no matter what you're interested in.
Amuse Museum - Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Art Museum
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Asakusa 2-34-3
Hours: 10:00-18:00 (last entry 17:30)
Closed: Mondays (if a national holiday, closed on Tuesday instead)
Other Languages: English (in parts)
Nearest Station: Asakusa Station (all lines)
Access Route: 5 minutes on foot from the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line Asakusa Station
5 minutes on foot from the Tobu Isesaki Line Asakusa Station
8 minutes on foot from the Toei Asakusa Line Asakusa Station
8 minutes on foot from the Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station
Entry Fee: adults 1080 yen; university/high school students 864 yen; elementary school students 540 yen; toddlers, free