Japanese swords, £18.00
Length: 138.000 cm
Width: 126.000 cm
Gift of Dr John Anderson FRS (1885)
Rooms 92-94: Japan
Ainu, late 19th century
From Hokkaidō, Japan
Weaving bark fibres
Dr John Anderson was a physician working in India between 1863 and 1886, during which time he also travelled further east. This coat is part of a substantial collection of Ainu material which he presented to the British Museum in 1885, most of which is from Hokkaidō.
The Ainu used the bark of elm trees to make a very fine light cloth, known as attush. Lime tree bark and nettles also provided a source of fibre. After the bark of young trees had been collected, it was softened in water, later dried in the sun and the fibres delicately separated and twisted to form a skein. Long strips were woven by women, providing the basic material from which these coats were made. The cloth was also occasionally used to make light working clothes for people outside the Ainu communities. Traditional clothes are still worn for some celebrations, and the bark cloth and its designs have also been adapted by contemporary designers.
The patterns used to decorate formal clothing were handed down from mothers to daughters and now have aesthetic rather than symbolic value. The intricate embroidered designs and appliqué were most commonly made using cotton obtained by trade; the silk remnants, silk thread and velvet borders used on this coat would have made it a prized item.
W.W. Fitzhugh and C.O. Dubreuil, Ainu: spirit of a northern peo (Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 1999)
J. Kreiner (ed.), European studies on Ainu langu, Monographien aus dem Deutschen Institut für Japanstudien der Philipp-Franz–von-Siebold-Stiftung, Band 6 (Munich, Iudicium, 1993)
B. Ohlsen (ed.), Ainu material culture from the, British Museum Occasional Paper 96 (, 1994)