Bebe Taian: Coveted Kimono: Bingata Furisode

October 19, 2012

Coveted Kimono: Bingata Furisode

A rare bingata furisode, a vintage work from approximately 30-40 years ago.

Normally, I am not a fan of bingata, but I must admit that bingata items are generally of high quality and exceptionally tedious production. Real, not printed bingata, is not easy to find... pieces tend to be hand-made and intricately dyed. This is a great work of art!

The full picture is difficult to look at, and isn't particularly sharp. However, seeing the close-up shot, one can better appreciate the finery and attention to detail that manufacturing this piece must have demanded.

I love the colours! Blues tend to be amongst my favourites, although I find them difficult to wear because of my skintone. I like the additions of bright pink, which I think add to the youthful, feminine flair of the furisode!

But this kind of work did not evolve on it's own. Like most art forms, the bingata technique originated with international trade and, eventually, tyranny.

When Okinawa was still the Kingdom of Ryuukyuu, around the 1300s, many nations came and went to the island for trade. As a result, Ryuukyuu developed a style of dyeing comprised of what seems to be Indian or possibly Chinese origin, but with their own take on the flora and fauna around them. Katagami (first created around 710-794 in Ise prefecture of Japan) were used to stencil out and speed up the production of repeating images. Then, a rice-paste resist technique was used to dye the kimono before washing the fabric and stitching the item together. Ryuukyuuan items were already sought after by the many visitors the island got, but the Japanese nation felt they were becoming a little too valuable... and decided to seize the Kingdom for themselves.

In 1609, Japan invaded Ryuukyuu and prohibited trade with other countries, while demanding heavy levies and tributes from the nation in the form of fine handicrafts such as jofu (banana-fibre fabrics) and bingata-dyed cloth. The Japanese government demanded higher and higher quality goods, forcing Ryuukyuuan folks to travel elsewhere to learn new techniques and improve quality. This posed some other problems- pigments traditionally used were formerly imported from Fujian, China. Now that Ryuukyuu was forbidden to trade with other countries, they had to come up with new dyes to produce the fabrics that the Japanese wanted. On top of that, the goods they now produced were no longer as traditional as they were for the past 300 years. Because of sumptuary laws passed in Japan, certain classes of people could only wear certain colours and fabrics, meaning that in order for Ryuukyuu to produce goods to pay the tributes, they had to conform their techniques to those laws in order to be accepted. Even then, producing a single kimono could take a team of workers a month to produce, so only the very wealthy and royalty could afford to wear one. Patterns were kept within families, although stencils were sometimes purchased by collectors or taken by the occasional thief.

We can thank Shiroma Eiki for the survival of bingata today. During the Battle of Okinawa (1945), much of Okinawa had been first ravaged by Japanese armies, then by the American armies attempting to invade Japan. Those few months saw the destruction of thousands of lives, as well as all the knowledge and trade secrets that those people carried. Shiroma Eiki was a bingata artist who survived the battle and went hunting for patterns and stencils on mainland Japan after the war in order to resurrect his tradition. The Occupied forces post-WW2 became customers of his, and the style of bingata increased in popularity. Soon, bingata became widespread again, and Shiroma trained his son to carry on the tradition!


  1. I agree, I don' really like bingata, but that furrisode is simply gorgeous!!!

    Thanks for the history lesson, it's really interesting to read. I never knew bingata had such a backstory to it!

    1. <3 I'm glad you were interested! I hope to own a real bingata item one day. They seem so hard to find, now that everything is machine-printed. But maybe one day!