“My dear son, I’ve got nothing to give you for your wedding. I wish I could make you a futon, at least. But all I can offer are two Sashiko kimonos (quilted farmers’ jacket) I’ve loomed for your father. One is worn out, the other is good as new. Take these to remember us.” My mother is gone, but woven into the quilted jackets, stitch by stitch, is the legacy of her love and devotion.
I used to toy with scissors and fabric when I was little. My grandmother would tell me off, “To slash cloth, you are slashing your own flesh.” She said there was a life force dwelling in every piece of cloth. In the Showa era, women depended their livelihood on fabric.
尤其在昭和時代前，日本的東北 —— 雪之國度，本洲最北邊的青森縣，象徵日本最貧窮的地帶，農夫和漁民，因為嚴峻的天氣，土地貧瘠，連棉花也長不出來，只能以緊絀的麻布造衣，人們不分晝夜和場合，只穿同一套衣服，並不斷重疊布碎來修補和加厚，以防寒和補強之用。BORO（襤褸）直譯是爛布的意思，這種簡單多變、迷倒當代布藝設計的縫補針法，卻是這片荒蕪之地的生存之本——用之美。
Before Showa, Aomori Prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region – colloquially referred to as “the snowed kingdom”, had been notorious for its poverty. It was too cold to grow cotton, so the local farmers and fishermen grew hemp instead and created a textile aesthetic known as boro: derived from the Japanese boroboro, which means “something tattered or repaired”, boro refers to the practice of reworking and repairing textiles through piecing, patching and stitching. Born out of necessity, boro has since evolved into works of art that champion the beauty of practicality, and a cultural record of homespun cloths, dyes and techniques.
Sashiko originated in early 16th-century Japan. Its name means “little stabs” – a reference to the plain running stitch that makes up sashiko’s geometric, all-over patterns sewn with off-white stitches on dark indigo fabric, evoking whitecaps on the ocean, or dark blue mountains topped with snow. You can try it out with my tutorial.
A family makes their bed by spreading straw on the floor and laying a bodo rug over it. Cocooned in a donja, the parents would sleep in the middle, their children huddling up naked next to them.
Donja is a huge night blanket. Unlike regular, lightweight blankets made of cotton, donjas are heavy, layered and made of quilted hemp cloths. A heavy-duty donja is a necessity for the harsh winters in the northern prefectures.
Bodo or bodoko is a bed sheet made using the technique of patching hemp and cotton cloths together. In the old days, women would crouch on a bodo as they gave birth, holding onto a string from the ceiling for support. Bodo is a family heirloom made of clothing and fabrics worn by one’s ancestors, sacrosanct for the well wishes and reminders it carries.
“We can easily trace our family tree back to a thousand ancestors through the past ten generations, without whose support we would never be here today, as self-sufficient individuals.”
An old woman living in the mountains tells me her story. She lives alone in the depopulated area, gravestones as her neighbours, in honour of the land’s scared connection with her ancestors.
“I don’t feel lonely; I’m waiting to reunite with my late folks. Until then, I’m just living in the memories they’ve left behind. I have no greed, and therefore no quarrels with anyone. Greed can only hurt others and eventually yourself. Only after we have ridden ourselves of greed are we able to reunite with nature – with earth. Do you like antiques? Fancy some memorabilia from an old woman?”
Each object in the house pulsates with the warmth of its owner – and her stories.
There is a popular saying in Aomori, “To mourn the deceased and fight over their relics at the same time.” Herein evidenced the scarcity of rations then and the importance of clothing to mountain people.
The Japanese term mottainai, which translates as “What a waste!”, emanated from this scarcity. It conveys a sense of regret over waste of precious food, clothing or objects, but also – the loss of a loved one.
在工業革命之前，衣服都是充滿愛的，一針一線，每一塊布都是由媽媽或是媽媽的媽媽編織、縫紉而成，當中包含了家族的故事、歷史和傳承；甚或是關於愛情的故事，有妻子造給丈夫的，也有男生為未來妻子遮風擋雨而造的稻草雨衣 ⋯ 那麼現在由別人的媽媽和妻兒日以繼夜所造的廉價衣裳，當中又包含著什麼意思呢？
Before industrialisation, clothing used to be a work of love, woven with care by mothers as vehicles of family tales, history and legacy; or by wives and husbands as a mino (a traditional Japanese raincoat made out of straw) for their loved ones. What meaning, then, does our modern, mass-produced clothing – handmade by other people’s mothers and wives, carry?
場館內掛了34幅都築嚮一先生的攝影作品，築嚮一先生亦是BORO Rags and Tatters from Far North of Japan的作者，在我的SLOW STiTCH NOMAD網頁內也有介紹。
34 of kyoichi tsuzuki‘s photography were hung in the museum, he is also the author of “ BORO Rags and Tatters from Far North of Japan” which is also mentioned in my SLOW STiTCH NOMAD webpage.
「Amuse Museum 開館十週年特別展覽」
“Amuse Museum 10th Anniversary Special Exhibition”
This exhibition features boro textiles and archival pieces from the collection of Aomori native and ethnologist, Chuzaburo Tanaka (1933-2013), who dedicated his life to researching and documenting the culture and wisdom of his home.
A trip to Tokyo is not complete without a visit to the exhibition.
The Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Art Museum – Amuse Museum
2-34-3 Asakusa, Taito Ku, Tokyo, Japan 111-0032