Tokugawa Museum – Noh Costume

At the Tokugawa Museum, the artifacts that really caught my eye and interested me were the Noh costumes. The piece I chose to focus on was the Suo Jacket and Trousers from the Edo period in the 18 – 19th century. This artifact was one of the more elaborate costumes on display; many of the other costumes only had a single large object that was repeated a few times that served as the entire focal point of the piece. This costume stood out in that it had small repeating patterns that covered the entirety of the fabric, and while there were some others that had this as well, this piece was unique in that it had two patterns that contrasted each other.

The description of the costume stated that the patterns of the costume were cobweb and willow and swallow. However, it was only after carefully studying and observing the piece that I was able to connect the patterns to the description and discern which pattern was which. The “cobweb” pattern reminded me more of windmills or flowers than it did of cobwebs and it was only until after I had discovered the swallows in the other pattern that I realized that the pattern on the blue background must have been the cobwebs that the description was referring to. This makes me wonder if cobwebs was truly what the maker intended the pattern to be or if it is what modern historians have interpreted it as.

There were several aspects about this piece that surprised me. The first was how large it was. I feel like I have seen very few Japanese people of the stature that would have been required to fill out this costume. However, it also didn’t seem any larger than the other costumes on display so unless performers were all abnormally large, it is more likely that my perception about the size of it was skewed. Another aspect that surprised me was the material and how thin it was. This, along with the fact that the edges did not seem to be hemmed, does not make it seem as though these costumes had a very long lifespan. It made me wonder if they were reused and how many performances they could endure before having to be replaced. It also made me wonder about the difficulty of dyeing the fabric in such a complex manner. It would seem like a waste to spend that much effort dyeing such a complicated piece if it was just going to be frequently replaced. However, the structure of the costume itself was not that complicated. The seam down the middle of the back made it seem as though the piece was constructed by sewing together two symmetrical pieces. And so, any potential challenge about creating this costume seems to stem from making and dyeing the fabric instead of the construction. 

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