Rare Japanese kimono revealed to belong to family of legendary samurai warrior

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Rare Japanese kimono revealed to belong to family of legendary samurai warrior
Kimono at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House.

KENDAL.- Curators have made an amazing discovery about a Japanese kimono which has gone on display at Blackwell - the Arts & Crafts house.

The garment, which takes centre stage in the latest exhibition - House of the Setting Sun, (which runs until 10 October) - came into the Lakeland Arts collection more than three decades ago - but little was known about it.

As curators researched the kimono more thoroughly for the exhibition - including investigations with the V&A in London - they discovered it was something quite remarkable.

Small circular crests printed on the back of the arms reveal the name of the samurai family to which its owner belonged.

Two meeting swallows are the crest of the Uesugi clan, a prominent family whose ancestor, Uesugi Kenshin, is one of the most revered samurai warriors in Japanese history.

Kimono, which simply translates to ‘the thing to wear’, have been worn in Japan for over a thousand years, but they became the primary form of dress in Japan during the Edo-period (mid-19th century).

Naomi Gariff, Blackwell’s Programme Curator, said:

“The kimono is stunningly embroidered and along with an accompanying obi belt, are well-preserved examples of Japanese garments dating from the very important Edo period.

“What’s even more remarkable is that the garment would have belonged to the family of one of Japan's most famous samurai warriors - Uesugi Kenshin. A female member of the Uesugi family would have worn it on ceremonial occasions.

“It’s likely the Uesugi family sold the kimono to a British trader in the late 1860s/early 1870s after the samurai class in Japan were disbanded and a new ruling class emerged.

“We have been quite taken aback by the significance and history of the kimono and delighted that visitors can see it on display in Cumbria, particularly at Blackwell.”

Blackwell – the Arts & Crafts house, is currently celebrating over 150 years of cultural exchange between Britain and Japan.

To mark the Japan-UK Season of Culture, House of the Setting Sun examines the interchange of influence between Japanese design and the British Arts & Crafts Movement.

Along with the kimono, House of the Setting Sun includes a collection of traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints and a fascinating display of 19th- and 20th- century Japanese and British ceramics, including works from the father of British Studio pottery, Bernard Leach.

House of the Setting Sun runs until 10 October, and visitors will discover popular themes inspired by Japanese culture throughout the house and gardens. Children will be inspired and fascinated by an adventure trail that reveals Blackwell’s resident yōkai monsters, a family of mythical and mischievous creatures with peculiar traits and intriguing stories to tell.

Tickets to Blackwell are available to pre-book online at blackwell.org.uk. The house and Tea Room are open daily from 10am-5pm.

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