Kimono for a courtesan?

Produced as part of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk

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The motif on this exuberant outer-kimono (uchikake) relates to a popular kabuki play – a traditional Japanese form of theatre – derived from the Chinese legend of Shakkyō (meaning Stone Bridge). The bridge, over a steep gorge near the summit of Mount Seiryo, was reputed to lead to the Buddhist paradise. It was guarded by mythical creatures called shishi – a type of lion-dog.

It is possible that this kimono was worn by an actor in a performance, but decorative themes on stage costumes were not usually so literal. This garment was more likely to have been worn by a high-ranking courtesan while parading through the pleasure quarter. The diversions of the theatre and the brothel were closely linked in 19th century Japan.

Explore the detailed motif on this kimono and zoom in to view the rich embroidery and embellishment.

Kimono for a courtesan, 1860–80. Museum no. FE.73-2014. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Find out more about popular culture in Japan during the Edo period through our collection of woodblock prints.

Background image: Outer-kimono (uchikake), probably Kyoto, 1860–80. Museum no. FE.73-2014. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London