EXHIBIT OF THE MONTH: Silk kimono on display at Sheffield museum

Kimono, 1900s. Image � Muse
Kimono, 1900s. Image � Muse

As spring seems to have finally arrived in Sheffield and the cherry trees are looking fantastic, I’ve chosen a object that reminds me of warm sunny days and that celebrates the beauty of nature.

This beautifully decorated silk kimono dates from first half of the 20th century and while it comes from Japan, it was probably made for a European woman.

The colour white is traditionally worn in Japan only for weddings and funerals and symbolises purity and the rays of the sun. For the first part of a marriage service, the bride wears a plain white garment, over which is another kimono decorated with metal and silk coloured threads, like this one. Commonly the decoration is a pair of cranes, as these birds mate for life. They are also a symbol of happiness, eternal youth, good fortune and longevity. In some Japanese myths and legends they can live for over thousand years.

However this kimono is unusual as it is decorated with a peacock. This has been painstakingly sewn by hand in many layers using gold metal threads. One is a lighter colour than the other and looks almost green, probably to mimic the colour of the peacock’s feathers. In Japan, peacocks represent dignity, power and beauty and are associated with the Buddhist goddess Kannon. As the goddess of mercy, Kannon watches over people and is popular with women who pray to her if they want children.

The peacock sits in the branch of a cherry blossom tree. These trees only bloom for two weeks a year and the flowers symbolise beauty, and how temporary it is. In Japan the Hamani, meaning ‘flower watching’, festival is a hugely popular event. Every year tens of thousands of people flock to parks and the countryside to witness the spectacle of cherry and plum blossoms in full bloom, marking the beginning of Spring. The trees flower at different times all over Japan from late January until May, so the Japanese Weather Association broadcasts regular forecasts, so people can plan their excursions.

Although this kimono was made in Japan, we don’t think it was actually made for a Japanese woman. The overall length and the sleeves are shorter than usual and extra tassels and a sash have been added. It was donated to the museum in the 1960s by a Mrs Price from Broomhill, but we don’t know when and why she bought it. Perhaps it was a souvenir of her travels, or maybe she got married in it herself!

See this kimono alongside many other objects from our World Cultures collection on show in our Treasures gallery at Weston Park Museum.