Kimono History: The Jomon, Yayoi and Tumulus periods

Dyeing and weaving in Japan was begun after the Jomon period had moved into the Yayoi period . The Japanese stone age lasted from the second and third centuries B.C.E. to the third century C.E.

The earliest clear view we have of the types of clothing that Japanese wore comes from the Tumulus period of Japanese history. These come from haniwa which were sculptures left on and around burial mounds. These show that the men and women both wore upper garments that were loose in the front and with close cut sleeves. The men wore pants and the women skirts.

The first documentary record concerning weaving in Japan is found in the Chinese Han chronicles of the third century, in The History of the Three Kingdoms. This records that in the years 238 and 243 a Japanese empress presented gifts of brocades to the king of Wei, one of the Three Kingdoms.

On the Japanese side we find a record stating that in the year 188 the Chinese king Doman presented to the Japanese emperor Chuai a gift of silkworm eggs. Later, King Koman's son, Yuzu, came to Japan with 25,000 subjects from 127 provinces all of whom became naturalized Japanese citizens. Whether or not this happened exactly as recorded is subject to debate, but many Chinese did come to Japan and gave weaving new methods.

There is also the Japanese work Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan) from 720 which talks about the sun goddess Amaterasu weaving garments for the gods.

The Empress Jingo according to some accounts was the first person to bring Chinese silk to Japan. The alternate story is that princess Sotorihime introduced silk weaving in the fifth century.

One ancient custom was to dedicate pieces of cloth at Shinto shrines to the deities. The earliest record of this happening was from the Nihongi which dates it to the year 675. The gifts were kept as sacred treasures, were made into garments for the priests, were used to decorate the shrine or were used for mounting and framing sacred pictures.

This was the period centering around Shotoku Taishi, the great sage-prince who did so much to foster learning and the arts and to introduce Buddhism into Japan. It was under his patronage that a great influx of culture flowed in directly from China and, by way of China and Korea, from India, Persia, Arabia and even the Roman Empire itself.

The handmade textiles were classified according to the thickness or quality of the threat. Aya was the name for any material in which the design was woven by means of twills or plaited weaves. Nichiki (brocade) was any material with a design woven of several colors.

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