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Rediscover Culture Through Fashion at Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum is affiliated with Bunka Gakuen, an institution that has played a pivotal role in Japan's contemporary fashion industry ever since its establishment in 1923. Visit the museum to see exhibitions of fashion and clothing from Japan and worldwide!

2021.11.25

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum: Japanese and Global Fashion

ファッションから日本と世界の文化を再発見!文化学園服飾博物館

In Japan, you’ll often see people dressed in unique and eccentric fashions. Many people don’t limit their style to Western clothing, but also wear or incorporate traditional Japanese clothing in their fashion.

For many Japanese, fashion is a medium of self-expression. They are meticulous in various aspects such as design, fabric, and coordinating outfits that blend modern and traditional elements.

If you wish to learn about the history of fashion in Japan, we recommend visiting the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum in Tokyo. At this facility, you can see exhibits of Japanese fashion, as well as garments from around the world.

Bunka Gakuen Cultivated Japan’s Fashion Culture

ファッションから日本と世界の文化を再発見!文化学園服飾博物館

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum is affiliated with the Educational Foundation Bunka Gakuen. The institution runs Bunka Fashion College and Bunka Fashion Graduate University—two of the world’s leading fashion schools.

Bunka Gakuen was established in 1923 as the first school in Japan that taught clothing design and manufacturing (known initially as the Bunka Sewing School for Women).

The 1920s brought the emergence of "modern girls" who used to hang out in Tokyo's Ginza district. These women had short hair, which was uncommon, wore trendy clothing inspired by the fashions in Paris and New York, and earned their own income.

With the popularity of the modern girl style came an explosion for the demand of Western-style clothing. This demand also coincided with the need for more dressmakers. This history marks the establishment of Bunka Gakuen.

Rediscover Culture Through Fashion at Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The 2021 “European Mode” exhibition. Picture courtesy of Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Bunka Gakuen launched the fashion magazine Soen (Japanese) in 1936, which is still in publication today.

Soen included tutorials on how to sew clothing at home. The magazine has changed with the times; it currently covers mainly high fashion.

Rediscover Culture Through Fashion at Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The 2017 “Clothing and the Cold” exhibition. Picture courtesy of Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Bunka Gakuen aimed to provide education and research based on exceptional and authentic pieces. To do so, they collected clothing from various periods around the world.

In 1979, the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum opened to the public and exhibits a portion of this collection. Visitors can experience Japanese and global cultures through clothing that's fundamental to our lives.

Four Special Exhibitions Throughout the Year

Rediscover Culture Through Fashion at Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The 2021 “European Mode” exhibition. Picture courtesy of Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum does not have permanent exhibits. Instead, there are special exhibitions held four times a year.

Each year, the theme of their spring exhibition is the history of European fashion. This exhibit is held for new Bunka Gakuen students as their first opportunity to experience the history of Western clothing. Naturally, visitors can also enjoy the garments on display.

The exhibition displays the museum’s diverse collection ranging from the time of Marie Antoinette to modern fashion.

Rediscover Culture Through Fashion at Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The 2019 “Ikat Textiles from the World” exhibition. Picture courtesy of Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The museum also collects clothing from around the world to hold exhibitions based on a specific theme, such as technique or color. The clothing items on display are typically not replicas, but authentic pieces from that time period.

Rediscover Culture Through Fashion at Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The 2018 "Elegant Kimono" exhibition. Picture courtesy of Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Additionally, they occasionally hold special exhibitions on Japan’s traditional dress and kimono culture.

Summer 2021 Exhibition: “1500-Year History of Women’s Clothing in Japan”

ファッションから日本と世界の文化を再発見!文化学園服飾博物館

When we visited this past summer, the museum was holding an exhibition titled “1500-Years of Women’s Clothing: The Essence of Kyoto Textile Technology” (held in collaboration with the Kyoto Dyeing and Weaving Cultural Association).

The first section of the exhibition displayed women’s clothing from the Kofun Period (about 300 to 538) to the early Meiji Period (1868–1912). These garments were restored by Kyoto textile artisans. Visitors could compare the differences between the clothing worn by different social classes such as the aristocrats, samurai clans, and townsfolk.

ファッションから日本と世界の文化を再発見!文化学園服飾博物館

There was an area that introduced the Kanoko shibori technique in a way that was easy to understand. Kanoko shibori is a tie-dyeing technique that has been passed down for generations.

ファッションから日本と世界の文化を再発見!文化学園服飾博物館

The second section of the exhibition featured Noh costumes (*1) and wedding clothes made from traditional dyeing and weaving techniques. These showpieces are a part of the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum’s collection.

The exhibition featured valuable Noh costumes dating from the Edo Period when this theatrical performance was popular among samurai clans. We could only admire and gasp at the delicate handiwork used to bring the world of Noh to life.

*1 Noh: a traditional Japanese performing art that involves masked acting and dance. The art form was established around the 14th century.

Deep-Dive into History with the Database

ファッションから日本と世界の文化を再発見!文化学園服飾博物館

The exhibition schedule is published on the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum’s official website (Japanese). Experience these exhibitions firsthand if you're interested in fashion!

We also recommend exploring the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum’s Collection Database (Japanese). This database allows you to view photos of clothing from around the world collected by the institution as educational and research materials. Search the database by country or period and get a closer look at the details in each garment through photos. The database is actively used by people researching clothing, comic artists, and other creatives.

A culture's distinct characteristics can be seen in clothing, its design, and how it's made. Why not experience the profound world of fashion for yourself?

In cooperation with Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.