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Seduction: Japan's Floating World

Summer robe with cormorant-fishing design, 1800–1850
Edo period (1615-1868)
Silk crepe, paste resist- and stecil-dyed, silk and couched gold thread embroidery; silk lining.

This unlined summer robe (hitoe) of silk gauze has a scattered design of insect cages and autumn plants reserved in white with paste resist on a blue background. Light blue is the color of choice for summer robes because of its cooling association with water. Silk and metallic thread embroidery and stencil-dyed dot patterns ("deer spots," or katabitta) accent the flowers and cages, and tiny silver spirals represent dewdrops resting on the grasses.

The plants are among the most commonly associated with autumn: bush clover, pampas grass, bellflower, chrysanthemums, and pinks.

Autumn motifs, common on summer robes, offer a visual reminder of cooler temperatures to come. Insect cages are a fall symbol long associated with the literature of the Heian period (794–1185) court. The combination of cages and fall plants calls to mind an episode from The Tale of Genji (written around 1000) in which little girls are sent to lay out cages in a damp garden following an autumn typhoon. Educated viewers would have recognized the allusion and its suggestion that the wearer was a person of refined sensibilities.

John C. Weber Collection

Image © John Bigelow Taylor.