How cultures and designs inspire beyond time and borders is fascinating and eye-opening. Across the ages, early Greek artists were attracted by the ancient Egyptians, French impressionists were influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, and old Korean ceramics inspire today’s Japanese potters.
So I was intrigued to hear that Sarah Nishiura’s new quilt was inspired by a Taisho era kimono, with its bold and also slightly nostalgic pattern. Sarah says that she is really interested in the scale of the designs in the Taisho era kimono and the way its [large] scale allows the whole garment to come alive with the movement of the body. A quilt is much more like a kimono than a painting from the perspective that they twist and roll as they cover the body.
The designs from the Taisho era are eclectic mixtures of traditional Japanese designs with influences from contemporaneous Western design schools like Art Deco. Taisho was a unique time when Western and Japanese designs influenced each other simultaneously. And fortunately, because Japanese do not throw away kimono easily (mottainai), many examples of the patterns from the Taisho era are still easy to find.
To provide a little background, Taisho (1912-1926) was a short era right after the better known Meiji (1868-1912) and just before Showa (1926-1989). Taisho was a time when liberalism flourished, popular culture was spread by mass media, café culture blossomed, and the new world opened for women to work and declare financial and spiritual independence. It is the equivalent of the “Roaring Twenties” in the West.
And the Taisho era continues to influence people today. If you ask a Japanese what comes to mind when they think of the Taisho era, they would probably say “Taisho Modern”.
The term “Taisho Modern”, or also called “Taisho Roman”, refers to spaces and designs that conjure up the culture of Taisho. I think of strikingly patterned kimono, cafes with high ceilings and stained glass windows, and old Japanese-Western style architecture that can still be seen in the high-end Ginza and Nihombashi districts of Tokyo
Most important, “Taisho Modern” carries an inherent feeling of resilience because Japan survived the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) during Taisho, which was the country’s worst-ever natural disaster in which more than 100,000 people lost their lives. My parents always talk about the generations of people who survived the Taisho era as tough and brave. So I feel that it is a perfect sentiment for a lovely quilt that stands up to use and protects us from the cold, and does it in great style.