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The story of Knitting in Japan, Part 1

The end of the ‘Edo’ Period & the start of Samurai Knitting! (continued)
Most of the knitted items had military uses, so in addition to the gloves and tabi, there were accessories for Katana (sword culture) – the Tuka-bukuro (sword hilt bag), the Tuba-bukuro (sword bag), hanging braids for Inro-sageo (small flat boxes for personal stamps and medicines) and Kinchaku (a knitted purse). They also made various types of underwear, - Kimono underwear called Juban and Monohiki, and winter underwear called Doi (a quilted vest with cotton wool padding).

According to ‘The History of the Meriyasu (stocking stitch) in Japan’ , quoted by Mr Matushita, the hand knitted gloves were generally white (rarely indigo) and were sewn together with several cotton threads. The sword accessories were knitted with silk threads, usually in light brown, dark brown or indigo blue. Juban (kimono underwear) was knitted with natural white cotton, very occasionally in indigo. Sometimes indigo and white were combined to make patterns. The Samurai knitters were paid comparatively well, which suggests the techniques were not widely known.

The arrival of the Meiji period in 1868 led very quickly to the demise of the samurai as part of the ruling class. The Shoguns, their patrons, grew weaker and a civil government, modelled on European lines was introduced, with the Emperor as head of state. Many samurai were now totally unemployed, and some began to knit full-time for their living. Even this was short-lived. The Meiji government realised that to survive Japan needed an industrial revolution, so they decided to make one, buying in European machinery, including knitting machines and other textile equipment.

The samurai were now completely redundant, obsolete in every way, and Japan was about to enter a very different world from that which had prevailed for so long.





©Yoshimi Kihara, 2002


Part Two will explore developments in knitting from the Meiji period onwards

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