Kubota and his recreation of Tsujigahana

3rd December 2018

kimono in exhibition

After a bleak three-year internment in a Siberian prisoner of war camp during World War II disrupted his career, Kubota eventually returned to Tokyo and his craft as a yūzen dyer. But he had not forgotten his vow to recreate tsujigahana and spent many months thinking of how its original process and method could be reconstructed.

He experimented with natural dyes as those of the sixteenth century might have used and looked for fabrics comparable to the nerinuki, a lightweight plainweave silk with glossed wefts and unglossed warps that was used for historic tsujigahana but was no longer part of the modern textile lexicon. Gradually, in spite of his dedication, he began to feel that it would be meaningless to cling tenaciously only to the past and ignore the highest-quality contemporary silk textiles available as well as the excellent synthetic dyes that were products of the modern world.

He had, by study and experimentation, uncovered many of tsujigahana’s mysteries, but rather than simply replicate the traditional tsujigahana, he decided to recreate it in modern form by combining his yūzen dyeing skills, modern textiles and modern dyes with the complex resist-dyeing, delicate ink-painting and unique aesthetic consciousness associated with the sixteenth century tsujigahana.

With this concept in mind, Kubota plunged into what seemed at to be endless years of trial and error. He devised a new method of dyeing with contemporary dyes that produced unique, richly coloured products, and he experimented with modern fabrics that would take well to the dyes and stitch-resist work. He called this new technique ‘Itchiku tsujigahana’ in tribute to the textile that had been his inspiration for so many years but, ever a perfectionist, he refused to show any of his work until he thought it was ready. Thus, his first exhibition of Itchiku tsujigahana kimono was not until 1977, some forty years after his first encounter with the textile that changed his life.

The exhibition, held at Mikimoto Hall in Tokyo, was an immediate artistic success, and numerous exhibitions followed. Kubota was widely acclaimed not only in Japan, but also in Europe and America in the years following for his innovative designs and technique.

His success did not halt experimentation and further development of his art, however. Until his death in 2003, Kubota continued to refine and expand his work, producing ever-greater light-reflective qualities in his kimono through ground fabrics with gold or silver wefts (kintoshi and gintoshi) and more complex stitch resist and dyeing techniques. And, in every kimono, Kubota’s contemporary rendition of the tie-dyeing, floral motifs and delicate ink drawings that had so entranced a 20-year-old boy with his first glimpse of tsujigahana in 1937 are there to admire and appreciate.

Kubota and his recreation of tsujigahana – by Dr Jacqueline M. Atkins, Collection Curator