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Historical Photos: “Boro” Garments in Context

Written on January 14, 2009

As this site has much to do with the boro or ragged indigo dyed cotton utilitarian textiles of Japan, I thought it would be interesting to post a few photos of boro garments in historical context.

The photos shown here were shot by the anthropologist,  John W. Bennett, while he was a member of the Japan Occupation in the late 1940s.   The voluminous photos he shot in this brief span of time were conceived as a book.  Bennett’s words:  “The book has several identities. It is, first, a personal and photographic memoir of a unique episode in the author’s career. It is, as well, a report–but sans professional details–of a unique experiment in social analysis and research. And it is–at least to some extent–a picture of Japan after the Pacific War and before the country experienced its full national revival. The present book could be considered a last report in the series produced by the Research in Japanese Social Relations Project at The Ohio State University, funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Rockefeller Foundation.”

Please note, these photos are not of the Japanese of Honshu–Honshu being the  locus of the kind of boro textiles shown on this site–but of Hokkaido as this is an Ainu family.  Still, there is enough cultural similarity in the fashioning of clothing for this photo to provide context for the boro textiles of Honshu.  Pay special attention to the lady in the kerchief with her patched noragi.

And do note, too, that boro garments such as those seen here–and probably many on the market now–were made and worn well into the middle of last century, just as Japan was on the cusp of great and rapid social changes.

And by all means visit the fascinating website from Ohio State University where the photos and writings of John W. Bennett are housed.

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