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The Macroscopic World

Island

Infant boy’s kimono Zoomify

The flora, fauna and human societies that develop on large, relatively isolated islands like Japan, Great Britain or Australia are, historically, better protected from genetic or cultural changes that often sweep through continents. Geographic position and climate are also influences, but the surrounding ocean that shelters and isolates these islands is arguably the strongest presence in the lives of the inhabitants.

About the Object

Object name: Infant boy’s kimono (ubugi)
Place made: Japan
Date made: 1900-1970
Dimensions: 111 x 92 cm
Materials & Techniques: Silk, woven, painted, resist-dyed, sewn, embroidered with silk and gold thread
Credit line: Gift of Fred Braida
ID: T85.0854

New parents in Japan bring their month-old male infant to a Shinto shrine wrapped in a kimono such as this one. This visit, called Omiya-mairi, is an opportunity for other relatives to congratulate the parents and pray for the child’s good fortune.

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Animation

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Slide Show

The Island Region

As with other remote geographic regions, island dwellers develop unique ways of responding to their particular conditions. A sense of remoteness forms cultural practices that refer more to other island inhabitants – past and present – than to those of other regions who may have more in common. The ancient Shinto religion (as with the kimono robe) is an example of a cultural expression that is unique to Japan. Shinto features a reverence for nature, a respect for tradition and family, and a belief in ancestral and nature spirits.

Town on Akajima, Japan

The Island Region

Image title: Town on Akajima, Japan
Credit: Image Courtesy of Chris Lewis

Akajima, Japan

The Island Region

Image title: Akajima, Japan
Credit: Image Courtesy of Chris Lewis

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Image

Little Boys

In Japan, as in China, male children are valued and treated differently than female children. In the past, infant mortality was so high that no infant was named until it had survived for one month. This garment’s name – ubugi – means “clothes for a newborn baby.” The images painted on it represent a boy outfitted as a samurai and surrounded by boy footmen. The circular white motifs are called mon, or family crests. This kimono has five mon – two on the front and three on the back – making it the most formal of garments. There is a Japanese saying that suggests an ubugi is best made from the mother’s kimono sleeve because “God dwelt in a sleeve.”

Children wearing kimonos at Heian Shrine in Kyoto

Little Boys

Image title: Children wearing kimonos at Heian Shrine in Kyoto
Credit: Image Courtesy of Mark Boucher

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Audio Clip

The Kimono

Listen to TMC curator Sarah Quinton talk about the kimono.

Credit: Audio Produced by TMC

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Transcript

The original prototype for the kimono came to Japan during the 6th century with Chinese explorers. Kimono developed into a form of dress for both men and women, though sumptuary laws restricted certain colours and styles to the nobility. In the 19th century, during the Meiji period Japan’s isolation as an island was broken by the American navy under Admiral Matthew Perry, who compelled the nation to open its borders. Today, kimono has come to embody a concept of “Japaneseness” rather than of social distinctions.

Collection Connections

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Panel

Panel

ID*: T96.0287

Sleeve band

Sleeve band

ID*: T00.51.12

Boys' day banner

Boys' day banner

ID*: T99.31.1