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Japanese Fashion: How fashion history has adapted

A lot has changed in Japanese fashion over the years with Western influences and societal changes continually affecting the way that fashion is perceived in Japan. Traditional Japanese fashion represents the culture’s visible artistic and traditional values through styles and materials that are recognisable across the globe. Nowadays, traditional Japanese garments are mainly worn for ceremonies and special events due to the Westernisation and complexity of traditional Japanese fashion. Let’s take a look at just how fashion has changed in Japan and adapted to suit the needs and demands of the modern fashion world.

The History of Japanese Fashion

Exploring the development of Japanese fashion takes us right back to the Nara Period of Japan. Social segregation through clothing was primarily noticeable between the lower and upper classes. Upper classes dressed in Japanese fashion that covered the majority of their body to nod to their higher social status. As the Heian Period arrived, the concept of covering the body moved more towards the idea that clothes served as protection from evil spirits and acted as a signal of social rank. As time continued to pass and ideas surrounding society changed in Japan, so did the approach to fashion. The once daily dress code soon became something of a festive trend that was saved only for the most special occasions.

Traditional Styles and Garments

The popularity of traditional Japanese fashion has slowly seen a decline over the last few years following the influence from other fashion cultures across the world that have come to both change and replace traditional Japanese fashion. However, as we look back in time we can instantly see where many modern collections and styles started from; traditional Japanese fashion itself.
The most common and well-known item of Japanese fashion is the kimono, also known as the ‘national costume of Japan’. The kimono is a dress-like wrap-over that consists of many layers that are secured in place by sashes and an obi. The process of wearing a kimono requires a lot of knowledge to carry out the multiple steps and layers that form this piece of Japanese fashion. Traditionally, the kimono was handcrafted using hemp and linen materials that were crafted from multiple layers, today more luxurious materials like silk and satin are used to craft these traditional pieces of Japanese fashion. Kimonos come in a variety of materials depending on their traditionality and even depict specific seasons and events. Different fabrics, colours, patterns and styles are used to represent the different seasons and events throughout Japan in the intricate designs of these fashion garments. Today, many versions of the kimono can be found in the modern fashion world, with multiple fashion designers using the kimono as a foundation for their current designs, influenced by its cultural and aesthetic aspects. Although the kimono is a traditional piece of Japanese fashion, it’s influences have had a significant impact on Western clothing styles.
Other types of traditional Japanese fashion items include the ‘Yukata’, a kimono-like robe that is worn specifically in the spring and summer, the ‘Hakama’, a long, wide pleated skirt generally worn over the kimono, and ‘Zori’, a wooden sandal similar to that of a flipflop. These traditional Japanese fashion garments that are still seen in Japan have all influenced the modern fashion industry.

Western Influence

Japanese fashion has seen plenty of Western influences that the country now embraces as part of a changing society and the modern world. After Japan opened up to trading, the first adoptions of Western clothing began to evolve. It became apparent that public colleges and schools were to wear Western uniforms and businessmen, teachers and other societal leaders were to adopt new, smarter Western fashion choices, with them being seen as a symbol of dignity and progression. Although Western styles and garments vastly altered fashion, many styles were adopted with the Japanese making them their own. Despite it being evident that Western culture has greatly impacted Japanese fashion, it is clear that traditional clothing is still a large part of Japanese life for now and in the future.
Japan has been influenced by Western culture for many decades but a lot of its tradition and culture still remains. From Japanese fashion and food to sake and silverware, Japan is driven by detail, culture and its artistic nature. At Atelier Japan, our collection of traditional Japanese products is just waiting to be discovered, browse our makers to explore our range of luxury handcrafted Japanese goods.

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Something Sakura: The history of the iconic Japanese cherry blossom.

One thing that instantly comes to mind when we think of Japan is the iconic sakura flower, or as it is more commonly known, the cherry blossom. The sakura flower can be found on a few trees of the prunus genus, but is most recognisable in its form on the Japanese cherry blossom. Present in many countries other than Japan, sakura has made its home in plenty of locations in the Northern Hemisphere with temperate climates. Nepal, India, Taiwan, Korea and China are just some of the other countries that are host to this beautiful and symbolic piece of nature. Despite its Western name, the fruit produced by the sakura varieties that have been cultivated for ornamental use is small and unpalatable; edible cherries are generally cultivated from other sakura-related plant species. The beautiful nature of the cherry blossom is appreciated far more for its symbolism and national significance. Let’s take a look at why the cherry blossom is such an embedded part of Japanese culture and how it is celebrated.

Symbolism of the Sakura

In Japan, the symbolism surrounding cherry blossom often refers to thoughts on human life with the glorious yet short-lived nature of the season acting as a reminder of our mortality. Similarly, cherry blossom symbolism is also linked to clouds due to the way that the flowers bloom in groups, again acting as a metaphor for the short nature of life. This sort of symbolism is often associated with Buddhist influences and the concept of ‘mono no aware’, meaning ‘the pathos of things’ that dates back to the 18th century.

Cherry Blossom and Rebirth

The cherry blossom is not only seen as a symbol of life and death but as a symbol of renewal. With the blossom creating dramatic and inspiring scenes during the Spring season, it’s no wonder that cherry blossom is so closely associated with this time of renewal and optimism where the Japanese calendar year begins, children return to school and workers start their new jobs.
‘Hanami’ is an incredibly popular Japanese tradition in which friends and family gather under a beautiful blooming sakura tree to celebrate the season. It is common for those who sit beneath the sakura in bloom to eat lunch and drink sake as a form of cheerful celebration. This custom dates back to the Nara period of Japanese history where the custom was limited to only the most elite of the Imperial Court, however, this tradition soon caught on and began to spread to samurai society. By the Edo period, gathering under the sakura was common amongst all members of society. As a way of encouraging more people to sit beneath the cherry blossom, Tokugawa Yoshimune, the ruler of Japan during the 1700s, planted areas filled with sakura trees, ready to be enjoyed and admired.

Celebration of the Cherry Blossom

Another traditional custom in Japan is the tracking of the ‘sakura zensen’, the cherry blossom front. Every year, both the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public follow the sakura cherry blossom as it blooms northward through the country. The blossoming of the delicate sakura flowers begins in January in the southernmost prefecture of Japan, Okinawa, it then blooms in swathes across the nation before reaching Kyoto and Tokyo during the end of March. The cherry blossom then continues to make its annual appearance in areas of Japan with higher altitudes to finally arrive in Hokkaido after a few weeks. The people of Japan keep a close eye on the forecasts of the sakura, turning out in large groups at a number of parks, shrines and temples, accompanied by family and friends to watch the pretty petals dance in these traditional flower-viewing parties. This tradition celebrates the true beauty of the sakura and makes for the perfect view to enjoy whilst relaxing with those closest to you.
The celebration of the captivating colour and natural beauty of the sakura is an ancient Japanese tradition that is still upheld in modern Japan today. Rich in symbolism in Japanese culture, the influences of sakura can be found all over. From Japanese art and anime to clothing styles and stationery, this delicate flower is a renowned national flower and a true cultural icon of Japan.
If you’re looking to find something that depicts the beautiful spring season and the stunning sakura flower, browse our unique collection at Atelier Japan. Here you’ll discover a range of cherry blossom inspired cutlery stands, jewellery, pottery and fans that are perfect for celebrating the natural beauty and history of the sakura.

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Japanese Entertainment: The history of Geisha

Over the years, many Japanese traditions have evolved, including that of the geisha; a piece of Japanese culture that exemplifies just how much influences from all areas of history and society can alter a long-held tradition. Geisha are Japanese women who entertain through the performance of ancient skills such as art, dance and signing. Characterised in appearance by distinctive Japanese costumes and makeup, the signature style is instantly recognisable. With many stages to the training of becoming a geisha and the levels of accomplishment thereafter, there is more than meets the eye to this iconic part of Japanese culture. Let’s take a look at the history of geisha and how its traditions have changed over time.

Early origins

In early Japanese history, female entertainers were often girls whose families were displaced during the struggles of the early 600s. Whilst Saburuko girls sold sexual services, others with a higher level of education made their living by entertaining at high-class social gatherings, initiating the start of geisha culture.
As this new culture grew, so did the emergence of beauty-focused, elite female performers.
‘Tayuu’ would entertain both as an actress and a prostitute during the 16th century. This early geisha performed dances and skits, a new form of Japanese art dubbed as ‘kabuku’ which meant ‘to be wild and outrageous’. These dances and acts were also the beginning of Kabuki theatre, a classical Japanese dance-drama that features dance and elaborate looks similar to that of the geisha.

Emergence of the geisha

Near the turn of the 18th-century, the first geisha began to appear. The first recordings were males who entertained customers waiting to see the most popular and gifted courtesans. It wasn’t until after 1760 that female geisha become more known and worked in the same establishments as male geisha after first performing as ‘dancing girls’ from a young age in the private homes of the upper-class samurai.

Rise of the culture

By 1800, being a geisha was considered a female occupation and as time evolved so did the style of dress, which would soon be emulated by fashionable women throughout society. The many different ranks and classifications of geisha meant that whilst some still chose to have engagements with male customers, others were strictly seen for their performance of traditional art forms.
Highly accomplished geisha began to offer an even more unique style of entertainment during the 18th century. Many courtesans entertained their clients by singing, dancing and playing music, with the exception of some renowned poets and calligraphers.
The popularity continually grew until World War II. The war brought a huge decline in the arts, meaning most of the women were forced to work in factories or elsewhere. The geisha lost its name and status during this time as many prostitutes began to refer to themselves as geisha girls to American military men. In 1944, geisha tea houses, bars and homes were forced to close. Within a year they were allowed to re-open, but with only a few women returning to the areas that were once at the heart of geisha culture, it was decided that as much of the custom and culture linked to the geisha name as possible would be preserved by rejecting Western influences and reverting back to the traditional standards of the profession.

Modern influence

Modern geisha still live on in traditional houses called ‘okiya’, where they spend their time in training as young apprentices, though the number of women taking on the role is continually in decline. New rules mean that girls must go to school until they are 15 before they can make the choice to train to become a geisha; a contradiction of traditional training methods where girls began training when they were around the age of six. However, they can still study and practice traditional Japanese instruments, songs, calligraphy, dances, tea ceremonies, literature and poetry to have the skills needed to perform in the future. In modern Japan, geisha and their apprentices are now a rare sight outside of the tea house and entertainment district, with the most common place to see their influence being that of tourists paying a fee to be dressed up as one.
There is a lot to learn about this culture, history, and its continual transformation. The performance and lifestyle of the geisha will always remain a tradition of Japan with the efforts to increase the numbers of geisha being something of a priority. For many people, this ancient form of entertainment is one that should remain extraordinary, not just a tourist attraction.
At Atelier Japan, we focus on traditional Japanese culture and history throughout all of our products. Go online to find an exquisite range of traditional Japanese tea, pottery, jewellery and silverware and let us bring traditional Japanese design to your home.