IASSRT Papers: Non-Archaeological Silk Road Textiles in Japan: Reconsidering Fragments from the Shōso-in and Hōryū-ji

IASSRT Papers: Non-Archaeological Silk Road Textiles in Japan: Reconsidering Fragments from the Shōso-in and Hōryū-ji

Following the post last week about the symposium ‘Reconnections along the Silk Road: Restoring and Reconstructing Textiles from Afar: 7th Symposium of the International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT)’, this is the first of a series of posts showcasing the papers most relevant to the Nara to Norwich project.

We start with two papers on Silk Road textiles in Japan, both part of a panel organised and chaired by Melissa M. Rinne, Senior Specialist in the Curatorial Division of the Kyoto National Museum. Thanks also to Melissa for her translations of both these papers. The first is by Oyama Yuzuruha, Curator of Asian Textiles and Costume and Chair, Department of Decorative and Applied Arts, Tokyo National Museum.


Non-Archaeological Silk Road Textiles in Japan:
Reconsidering Fragments from the Shōso-in and Hōryū-ji

OYAMA Yuzuruha
Curator of Asian Textiles and Costume and Chair, Department of Decorative and Applied Arts, Tokyo National Museum

The ancient textiles housed in the Tokyo National Museum’s Gallery of Horyuji Treasures are a part of the trove of heirloom objects preserved over centuries in Hōryū-ji, a Buddhist temple in Nara established in the early seventh century during Japan’s Asuka period (592–710). In 1878 (Meiji 11), the temple donated these treasures to the Imperial Household. Though mostly associated with Empress Suiko (554–628), these textiles were used in Hōryū-ji and appear either to have been made in Japan from around the seventh century or imported from Sui-dynasty China.

The Hōryū-ji treasures given to the Imperial Household in 1878 are currently kept in the Tokyo National Museum, but before this transfer, they were stored temporarily in the Shōsō-in Repository, located within the grounds of Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara. As a result, some fragments of Hōryū-ji textiles were mixed up with the textile fragments of the Shōsō-in. The Shōsō-in houses artifacts associated with Emperor Shōmu (701–756), who established Tōdai-ji, and his consort Empress Kōmyō (701–760) during the Nara period (710–794). Among these objects are textiles used in Buddhist ceremonies associated with Shōmu, notably the Consecration Ceremony for Tōdai-ji’s Great Buddha in 752. Such textiles were produced in Japan during the eighth century or were imported from Tang China.

Due to the intermingling of these two ancient heirloom textile collections, it became difficult for later scholars in some cases to distinguish which fragments belonged to which, despite the approximately century-long gap in their creation periods. However, organizational efforts conducted in the mid-twentieth century as well as more recent comparative research between Shōsō-in and Hōryū-ji textiles have made it possible to consider the chronological order of their creation.

Additionally, over the past decade, scholars have conducted a comprehensive survey of the ancient textiles housed in the Tokyo National Museum. In the course of this survey, new discoveries were made, including the identification of textiles originating from Hōryū-ji, including a train and a male official’s formal robe, which were subsequently conserved and reproduced. This presentation introduces the research outcomes and investigations into these ancient textiles housed in the Tokyo National Museum.


About the Author

Oyama Yuzuruha is an art historian specializing in the history of East Asian textiles. She is chair of the Department of Decorative and Applied Arts and curator of East Asian textiles at the Tokyo National Museum, as well as adjunct lecturer at Tokyo University of the Arts and visiting professor at Kanazawa College of Art. She was previously curator of the Nara Prefectural Museum of Art. Dr. Oyama graduated from Ochanomizu Women’s University and received her doctorate from the University of Tokyo. Her scholarship has been the recipient of major awards, including the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Prize and the Japan Academy Encouragement Prize in January 2016, followed by the Ochanomizu Women’s University’s inaugural Koizumi Ikuko Prize in February 2017. Her numerous books, exhibition catalogues, and articles on topics such as kosode (kimono), Noh costumes, Buddhist textiles, and historical Japanese textiles in foreign collections examine the relationship between Japanese textile techniques and design from a cultural and historical perspective. She is currently chief researcher on the second of two five-year Kakenhi Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to study domestic and overseas Japanese textile collections formed before World War II.