IASSRT Papers: Rediscovering Silk Road Collections: Textiles Brought to Japan by the Ōtani Expeditions

IASSRT Papers: Rediscovering Silk Road Collections: Textiles Brought to Japan by the Ōtani Expeditions

Following our recent post 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 second of a series of posts showcasing the papers most relevant to the Nara to Norwich project.

This is the second of 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. This paper is by Hiroya Himeka, Research Fellow, Tokyo National Museum.

Rediscovering Silk Road Collections:
Textiles Brought to Japan by the Ōtani Expeditions

Research Fellow, Tokyo National Museum

The majority of the Tokyo National Museum’s textile holdings are heirloom fabrics passed down generation to generation, often over centuries; however, the museum also houses archaeological textiles. Some of the most significant among this latter category are collections known to have been unearthed from the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang in Gansu province, China, and those excavated from Turfan (Turpan) in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Most of these textiles were collected by the Ōtani Expeditions in the early twentieth century. The Ōtani Expeditions were research teams sent from Nishi Hongwan-ji Temple in Kyoto to explore the paths of the dissemination of Buddhism from India to Japan.

Unfortunately, the vast amount of archaeological and documentary materials collected by the Ōtani Expedition was later dispersed, which has made it difficult for researchers to grasp the scope and contents of its findings, even up to the present day. Recent research into materials held by the Tokyo National Museum helps fill in some of the gaps in our understanding, complementing existing information regarding these fabrics. These textiles should be considered in conjunction with those collected by European expeditions in the areas of Dunhuang and Turfan during the same period.

While their existence in the Tokyo National Museum has long been known, these materials have rarely been exhibited to the public due to condition and conservation issues. This presentation is an opportunity to share information on significant archaeological textile fragments in the museum’s collection, based on research conducted by the presenter since 2021.

Images of Altar Valance(TI-505-50). Images provided from the Digital Research Archives of Tokyo National Museum.

About the author

HIROYA Himeka specializes in East Asian art history with a focus on the history and archaeology of Chinese and Japanese decorative arts, especially textiles. She is currently a research fellow at the Tokyo National Museum and was formerly part-time curator at the Tokugawa Memorial Foundation. She received her Masters in art history from the Graduate School of Tokyo University of the Arts, where she was awarded the Tokyo University of the Arts Prize. As a student, she spent a year studying art and archaeology at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts and Design in the People’s Republic of China. Her paper “Reconsidering the Production Dates of Hōryū-ji Temple’s Red Compound Twill with Lion and Phoenix Roundels and Red Compound Twill with Lattices and Beaded Floral Roundels: A Comparative Study with Textiles from Eastern Eurasia” was published in the journal Bijutsushi, 193, in October 2022. She recently curated the exhibition Rediscovered! Tracing the Journeys of Ancient Textiles and the Ōtani Expeditions (September to December 2022) as part of the Tokyo National Museum 150th anniversary celebration and is currently conducting research on ancient textiles in East Asia, including Japan.