Omoshirogara means "bizarre" patterns. More precisely, it refers to patterns that have integrated, that is, assimilated and processed the modern experience. Accordingly, Omoshirogara play with new technologies, such as film or airplanes. They document events of contemporary historical significance, such as the Olympic Games. They depict heroes of the day, such as Japan's victorious generals in the wars with China (1894/95) and Russia (1904/05). Omoshirogara draw on traditional mass media, such as Japanese woodblock prints, and new mass media, such as postcards and newspapers. They unfold the maps of imperialist Japan, which annexed Taiwan (1894/95) and Korea (1910), and later, in the 1930s, parts of northeast China. The patterns also speak in symbols. These include anchors, family crests, the mystical Mount Fuji, the insignia of patriotic women's organizations, national flags, the cross emblem of the Italian flag under the fascists, and the swastika of the Nazis. 

Many Omoshirogara are found in male jacket linings and under-kimonos. They appealed to elite circles of men who wished to demonstrate their intelligence and national patriotic sentiments in private. Boys wore kimonos with symbols of power and strength. Within this arch-patriarchal society, however, geisha also wore Omoshirogara because they needed to converse with men at eye level. According to Yoshiko Inui, the geisha's chic (iki) was based on precisely this tension: being aware of what was happening in the world and being able to play with her knowledge. In addition to traditional knowledge, such as the Chinese classics or the tea ceremony, the modern geisha's intellectual repertoire also included questions of political or national interest.

A scene from the Russo-Japanese War: Japanese troops ride into Mukden (today’s Shenyang in northeast China) in 1905 under the leadership of General Iwao Ōyama. The depiction is based on a famous painting by Takeshirō Kanokogi. This haori, a jacket worn over the kimono, probably dates from the 1930s. 

Haori (Jacket): Battle of Mukden, 1930s, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

This depiction is remarkable in that it shows the Japanese soldier caricatured as a ravenous barbarian. Still wearing boots, he squats on the tatami mat, and lets frightened Chinese feed him rice cakes. The bowls are inscribed with place names; Japan is quite literally gobbling up China. While the design is distinctly Japanese, it reveals a critical attitude toward the imperialist aspirations of the empire.

Haori (Jacket): A voracious Soldier in the Sino-Japanese War, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The furoshiki (wrapping cloth) depicts an older man in the uniform of a Russian general who is sinking. The young sailor, a Japanese, holds a torpedo under his nose. 

Furoshiki (wrapping Cloth): A Newspaper Article from the "Jiji shinpō" on Russo Japanese War, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The fukusa (silk cloth to purify tea ceremony utensils) is decorated with a newspaper article from the "Mainichi Shimbun" of May 11, 1921. The article reports on the European travels of the Japanese Prince Hirohito (later the Shōwa Emperor). The prince is depicted riding in a carriage together with the English King.  

Fukusa (silk Cloth to purify Tea Ceremony Utensils): The “Mainichi Shimbun” on the Japanese Prince Hirohito, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

Two hitoe-obi (single-layer belts): one with planes and clouds (red), and one with tanks (blue). The coarse material indicates the critical supply situation towards the end of the war when neither silk nor cotton were available. 

Single-layer Obi (Belt): Airplanes, ca. 1940, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo  
Half width Obi (Belt): Tanks, ca. 1940, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo  

The black obi (belt) bears the insignia of the "Patriotic Women's Association," founded in 1901. This association of women from the Japanese upper class took care of war widows or war victims in the broadest sense. Different badges were awarded to donors to the cause, depending on the amount of the donation. From time to time, remarks made fun of the equally elegant and expensive outfits of the patriotic women. 

Black Obi (Belt): Patriotic Women’s Association, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

While the traditional arsenal of weapons depicted on the kimono was intended to bring good luck to young men, the olive green was an innovation of (kimono-producing) department stores like Mitsukoshi. The color comes from the western spectrum and symbolizes “victory” and "peace."

Juban (Undergarment): Kabuto Helmets, Fans, Bows and Arrows, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo

This design celebrates the Western-Japanese cooperation of entertainment and technology: the Mitsubishi 2MR8 reconnaissance plane (from 1932) meets a Harley Davidson (from 1933) meets a Mickey Mouse comic. The fabric is synthetic fiber.

Juban (Undergarment): Mickey Mouse, ca. 1930s, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

Japanese everyday life during the war is organized around the clock: no shopping – the chic lady is pursued by a ninja with a raised sword; no shamisen (the crossed-out long-necked lute is associated with evening entertainment and geisha), and so on. In their sleep, the Japanese dream of the soldiers at the front. The pattern is unusual because it is very detailed and thus contradicts the otherwise intuitive and easily recognizable patterns. 

Haori (Jacket): The Slogan "Ichioku-Isshin" (One hundred million, one Heart), ca. 1940, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The black obi is decorated with the traditional poem “Umi Yukaba” (At Sea). At that time, it was understood as a call to soldiers to sacrifice themselves for Japan. The belt was worn by women who belonged to the "National Defense Women’s Association" founded in 1932. 

Obi (Belt): National Defense Women's Association and a Poem “Umi Yukaba", Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The piece here, made of silk crepe in the bright purple fashionable at the time, shows the silhouette of St. Petersburg and (presumably) the Russian battleship "Tsesarevich."

Chirimen silk Scrap of Cloth: A Port in Russia, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The olive-colored silk belt stems from the time of the Russo-Japanese war.

Obi (Belt): Silhouette of the Russo Japanese War, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

Two pieces of fabric: one made of cotton with parachutes and airplanes and a blue kasuri that served as a futon cover. The ikat pattern links the rising sun, the Japanese flag raised on a wall, and the word "occupation." The fabric probably belonged to a bride's dowry, indicating the connection between patriarchy and Omoshirogara. The bride was to bear sons rather than daughters – the war motifs were symbols of good luck for boys.  

Kasuri (Ikat) with design of "Occupation" and Cotton Scrap of Cloth with Parachutes and Airplanes, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

Steamers on Lake Geneva and the building of the Palace of Nations, which Japan left in protest in 1933. The slogans on the map of Japan and the Korean peninsula say: "Japan is in the right! League of Nations, recognize our legitimate interest in Manchuria!". Manchuria is depicted as a mountainous landscape with peaceful agriculture. Next to the Japanese flag, the American and British flags are flying – a symbol of the hopes that these nations might understand territorial ambitions.

Nenneko (short padded Jacket covering a Baby and Mother): Foundation of Manchukuo, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

Manchukuo, Japan's puppet state, makes headlines. However, the key and economic engine of colonization was the railroad that veins the territory.

Nagajuban (Robe) with Railroads in Manchukuo, 1930s, Johann Jacobs Museum Collection, Zurich 

A piece of fabric celebrates the Los Angeles Olympics (1932), where Japan won seven gold and seven silver medals. Athletes from occupied Taiwan and Korea "competed" for the Japanese team. Another fabric piece shows two Japanese Navy landing operations at Shanghai and Hankou, viewed through binoculars. The Gelto camera demonstrates Japan's technological know-how. On the third piece of fabric, two boys trumpet out the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Japan, and Italy, concluded in 1940 on Hitler's initiative. A German Junkers aircraft flies over the Empire State Building in New York.

Scrap of Cloth with the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Scrap of Cloth with the Entry into Hankou, and Scrap of Cloth with Boys trumpet out the Tripartite Pact, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo

Juban (undergarment) from the time of the Sino-Japanese War (1894/5) with the symbols of the rising sun (national flag), the chrysanthemum (Imperial House), the anchor (navy), and a black kite. According to an anecdote, a black kite flew over the warship "Takachiho" during the Battle of the Yalu River, which was interpreted as a good omen. The black kite was brought to Emperor Meiji. The motif is linked to Jimmu, the mythical founder of Japan, who was once guided by a golden bird.

Juban (Undergarment): Sino-Japanese War, Japanese Imperial Flag, and black Kite, ca. 1895, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo

This baby's kimono documents the flight distance of the "Kamikaze-go," which made Tokyo-London in about 94 hours in April 1937. The plane was a patriotic marketing stunt by the newspaper "Asahi" and was sent halfway around the globe for the coronation of George VI.

Baby’s Kimono: "Kamikaze-go," ca. 1937, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo
Baby's Yukata (Summer Kimono): Tanks, Airplanes, and barbed-wire Entanglements, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The silk cloth duplicates a newspaper article about maneuvers held in the Osaka and Nara area in 1932.

Furoshiki (wrapping Cloth): The "Mainichi Shimbun" reporting Maneuvers, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo

The message is clear: in China (symbolized by the pagoda), children are waiting for the Japanese to arrive. A double-coded white dove flies to meet them. On the one hand a mythical messenger of the Japanese god of war; on the other hand, a symbol of peace in the Western sense.

Baby’s Kimono: Chinese Children and Palace Dolls, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo

This jacket shows postcards, Japanese warships with indications of tonnage, and an assembly of generals after the Japanese victory over Russia.

Hanten (cotton-filled winter Jacket): Russo-Japanese War and Postcards, ca.1905, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The motifs are from woodblock prints by artists Gekkō Ogata and Ginkō Adachi celebrating the Japanese victory at the Battle of Pyongyang (1894). Rich spoils beckon beside tied-up Chinese soldiers.

Kasane shitagi (Under-kimono): Sino Japanese War with Nishiki-e design, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

Most kimonos with war motifs were indeed intended for men. However, during the Shōwa era, similar kimonos were also created for women, like this highly elegant piece made of exquisite meisen silk. The ikat pattern is based on a type of helmet introduced to the army in 1930. 

Meisen silk Kimono: Military Cap and Airplane, ca.1930s, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

This exquisite black kimono with five family crests was probably worn by a geisha. On the bottom edge are the words "koma no hizume," referring to a soldier's song from the Manchurian campaign, "At minus 30 degrees, the guns and hooves clatter with cold...." In addition to the helmet and riding harness, the design shows the hand guard (tsuba) of a Japanese sword, thus relating the modern soldier to the samurai, or more precisely, to the spirit of the samurai – fighting to the end, never giving up, and ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.  

Hitoe (unlined Kimono): "Koma no hizume," Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The pattern on the lined kimono shows Japan and the Korean peninsula, along with the battleship "Nagato," launched in 1920. The contemporary event, a naval maneuver in 1936, is linked to a historical scene: the painting "Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on the Command Bridge of the Battleship Mikasa"(1926) by Shotarō Tōjō. Invoking motifs from the Russo-Japanese War emphasized the prestige of the Japanese Navy.

Nenneko (short padded Jacket covering a Baby and Mother): Admiral Tōgō, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 

The designs of this belt combine the flags of Nazi Germany, Japan, Italy, and Japanese-annexed Manchukuo.

Obi (Belt): "Asanoha" (Hemp Leaf Pattern) with Flags, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo 
Boy’s cotton Kimono: Submarine, Battleship, and Aircraft, Private Collection
Summer Kimono: Tripartite Pact, three national Flags, ca. 1940, Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo

The painter Taikan Yokoyama made the series Ten Sea Scenes and Ten Mountain Scenes on the occasion of the Japanese Empire’s 2600th Anniversary Celebrations in 1940. The proceeds were donated to the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy. 

Baby’s Kimono: Mt. Fuji and Planes which Taikan Yokoyama donated, ca. 1940 Yoshiko Inui Collection, Sapporo
Yoshiko Inui (Prof. of Tokai University (retired)) Filmed by Aina Inui, Edited by Subaru Moriwaki

*All the descriptions about the Omoshirogara Kimonos on this website are referred to Yoshiko Inui's academic achievement including Images of War; Kimono (Impact Publishing, 2007). 

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