Thursday, July 19, 2018

Journal Entry 2 - Japanese Kimonos

"1 blew silk Japon men gowne 02:10:00" NY

The total count for Japanese robes is up to 7, in three probate inventories plus one store inventory as they were for sale. One is European or American made because it is lined with "say" fabric, the others are the right materials e.g. silk and colors e.g. red or blue or muted or padded which is a bells a whistles kimono to have been imported form Japan, or were part of a group of Asian objects. Though for those gowns not labeled as being specifically "Japan" or "Japon" it is difficult to know just how many are really in inventories. 


Japanese kimonos were being imported to Europe starting in 1641. When I believe 20 or so were shipped back to the Netherlands that year. 

What does this mean? What does this say about the society in the 17th Century? 

Sometimes it can be difficult to interpret items in inventories. These kimonos tied in with the earlier Japanese sword, the porcelain figurines, porcelain people, along with the items from China which included those fabulous small red earthen tea pots also called Yixing / Zisha pots, points to a subset culture within the province. Then there are the fans... but what kind is unknown. 

The robe is present in both Manhattan and in Albany, and seems to be demonstrate an interest in the far east, specifically Japan and Malaysia and nations within this area. The red ginger in an inventory speaks to this. How this information will play out is unknown. 

One thing is clear, they were here and being worn as even one of the estate owners had his painting with one on in the correct color and the shoulders are dead on for the correct shape. So, that would actually make 8. 

17th Century Japanese robes are the opposite in shape to the Banyan which is fitted with fitted sleeves. The 17th Century Japane robe is wide, with wide sleeves, and often padded for winter, but also not buttoned and tied with a sash... usually Ottoman or Indian style sash by men, and belts by women.  

Maybe this points to a culture of sophistication rather than elegance, books are common along with prints of the far east, so globalism or worldliness seems to be both an interest and possibly a passion. A few inventories reflect people immersing themselves in a semi-Asian appropriation of culture. 

Normally we think of the 18th Century as a time for enlightenment, what does the presence of an outward looking mindset or worldliness imply about 17th Century New York? 

Notes to self, get a Yixing / Zisha pot. 


  1. Tara,

    Maybe one point of contact is that New Netherland was founded at least in part by the West Indies Company (I may have the name wrong here) while there was another company called the East Indies Company, I think. It sailed from Amsterdam, or even Texel and similar ports to the East Indies, originally to bring spices and other exotic goods from the Far East, also beginning in the early 17th c. Maybe some of the furs from New Netherland ended up in the Far Eat (I'm being funny here!) and the kimonos from Japan and similar objects ended up in New Netherland. I've read a couple of books on the East Indies Company. Japan was open to the West for a while, then closed itself off.

    Any time you find "exotic" goods, the people who owned them had progressed beyond a frontier existence and could afford, and had an interest in, life beyond their own cabin in the woods. I think it also implies a mixture of people sharing their cultures. Even if there wasn't anybody from the Far East in New Netherland or New York, some people there might have traveled to the Far East. Or might have met others who had. What an interesting topic you raise "just" with noting kimonos in a few inventories!


    1. Agreed, I suspect the owner of the store had traveled to Malaysia or Japan with the Dutch East Indies Company, as he is in Amsterdam for most of his life, disappears for about 5 years and is noted as not being in Amsterdam, then turns up with an East Indies store in New York. What I find interesting is that the market is strong enough for a shop keeper to take the risk of paying a high price to import these from Japan and sell them in New York in the fourth quarter of the century.