Hime | The Princess of Japan : Was I born to Play? Was I born to Frolic? (“Ryōjin Hishō” (1179) )

Was I born to Play? Was I born to Frolic? (“Ryōjin Hishō” 1179)

Shoko Aono

The samurai lived for victory in the battles that swept the country, creating the history of Japan in the process, but they could not have done so without the support of the brave yet elegant hime, who ran their homes, pursued beauty and produced a vibrant culture unique to Japan.    These hime were the daughters of the most powerful families in the land, the Emperors, nobles, shogun and daimyo. Sometimes they served as bridges between rival families, other times they were used as political pawns. They devoted themselves to raising the fortunes of their families whilst being buffeted by the storms of life.  Perhaps, that was why they strove to cultivate the refined arts, enjoying extravagant pastimes and living in graceful beauty.  

The customs of each household were passed down from woman to woman, leading to the development of rich traditions in every aspect of life.  They wore twelve-layered ceremonial kimono. The delicate combinations of color at the collar displayed their taste and sophisticated sensibilities which turn them into walking works of art.  They were accomplished in Ike-bana flower arranging, calligraphy and incense appreciation, bringing elegance and dignity to these ancient arts.  If we compare the culture developed by the hime with that of the valiant samurai we see that much of it tends towards the delicate and decorative. The items created for their trousseaus were particularly outstanding, true jewels of Japanese traditional art crafts, exemplifying the highest possible levels of aesthetic technique.  

The kimono and obi that they wore and the items they used in their daily lives were epitomized by the hatsune makielacquer furnishings tended to be decorated with numerous lucky symbols. These included chrysanthemum, pine, plum, iris, bamboo, peony, gourd, flowing water, crane, turtle, and assorted treasures. All of these represented their parents’ wishes for a bright future for their daughters who were born into a world of strife.  These objects doubtlessly served to help the hime to forget the sorrows of a life dedicated to fate and family tradition. In effect these became their symbolic guardians and friends allowing them brief moments of joy.

For this exhibition we have gathered various items that would have once delighted the hime. The beautiful silk Kimonos and Obis exhibited outstanding dyeing and weaving techniques, a fan with a yamato-e painting of a scene from the ‘Tale of the Genji’ (1008), decorated battledores, kaiawase shell games, makie lacquer items dating from the 16th to 19thcenturies. Including incense and cosmetics boxes, and in addition introducing outstanding examples of contemporary art crafts, including dolls, and small items utilizing kimono textiles.