Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum 文化学園服飾博物館

Museum exterior.

 Today I headed down to Shinjuku to view the exhibition, Imperial Court Costumes of the Meiji, Taisho, and Pre-War Showa Era at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum. The museum had two large galleries, and an amazing mosaic of 1920s fashions installed in the lobby. The exhibition that I viewed covered court costume between the 1880s and 1990s, and contained men's military and ritual costumes as well as formal women's dresses in European styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and women's ritual costumes. The clothing was impeccably constructed, and the fabrics lush and impossibly luxe. Some of the women's European style dresses had amazingly detailed beading and embroidery, and the women's ritual costumes were constructed of more than ten layers of finely woven silk.

While it's one thing to view these types of dresses as artworks, and easy to desire such beautiful things for one's self, I think it would be quite another thing to have to wear them regularly. The photographs of the women in their lovely wears that accompanied the costumes didn't really exude a feeling of comfort, joy, or fairy tale. This is something I'm constantly thinking about in my own research- the members of the imperial family didn't really (and don't still) have much control over their own lives. Rather, they were (and are) representatives of the nation, and as such we can't really know who they were as individuals. Sure, they have seemingly infinite resources and material possessions that many look upon with envy, but they are also limited in their personal choices (career, marriage, social circles, etc.). Contemporary society has constructed a princess narrative that we sell to young girls and women in the form of Disney princesses and fairy tale weddings, but the reality of the lives of royalty doesn't really seem to me like something to envy. So where do we draw the line between an escapist have-it-all princess fantasy and a consideration of the reality? Is there harm in the princess narrative? Certainly I think the princess wedding is a cultural institution that we could do without, but what about for young girls? Shouldn't we be empowering them with realistic choices instead of fantasies of palaces and pretty dresses? As a mother of a little boy I am so grateful that I don't have to navigate that minefield of feminist issues within my own family, but I do think that we as a society need to consider the messages we are relating to women and girls.
The cover of the catalogue- beautiful things contained within!
 Walking through Shinjuku on the way back to the station. 

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