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A Pair of Edo Period Cotton Kyahan: Leg Protectors

Written on July 24, 2012

Kyahan, or leg protectors, or gaiters, were worn by all those who lived in old Japan from rich to poor.  These kyahan are made from elaborately stencil resist dyed or katazome cotton, which indicates that the owner of these kyahan was a person of means.The very small pattern on the kyahan tells us that this cloth was made in the late Edo period, about mid-nineteenth century.  At that time, the Japanese government imposed sumptuary laws on their citizens; one of the aspects of these complex and far-reaching laws was to forbid the wearing of bright colors, flashy patterned cloth and silks to those whose station in life was lower than the samurai class.Hence, those who could afford it–merchants, etc.,–got around these laws by wearing very elaborately decorated cloth that was patterned with discreet, tiny, and complicated designs such as this one.   This cloth shows the pine bark or matsukawa bishi motif.  This small figured cloth is referred to as Edo komon, or, “Edo period all-over pattern.”As is obvious by seeing the back of one kyahan, the cotton used to make these is hand spun: the slubby texture tells us this.  Note the findings used to close the back of the gaiter: this “hook and eye” closure is a customary one in old Japan and is also used on tabi, or split toe socks.   The “buttonhole,” above, is not a buttonhole as buttons were not widely used in Japan until approximately the Meiji era (1868-1924).  When worn, the kyahan’s tie was passed through this buttonhole-like opening.I really like the gently curved, almost-lyrical shape of kyahan.  Their undulating, arched edges remind me of a ray.  Soon I’ll be offering these for sale on the webshop, but tomorrow, 25 July, I’ll be offering an Edo komon bag like this one.  If you like Edo komon, you may like one of these bags.

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