Spotlight: Showa Era Sewing Book

Spotlight 9: 1928 Japanese Sewing Manual/Textbook

In case you can’t read it – or don’t want to look up the pre-war kanji, the title is: メートルと鯨尺対照: 裁縫手芸教授書全

Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing’s ninth spotlight! Today I’m excited to share with you a super cool Showa era sewing manual that I picked up for less than $15 on Yahoo Japan Auctions. The Showa era in Japan was quite long – it ran from 1926-1989 – and as this book is from 1928 it’s really closer to the preceding Taisho era in that it still utilizes pre-war kanji and technologies compared to the latter half of the Showa era from the post-war/Occupation.

Title page! Translation below!

The title of my book is メートルと鯨尺対照: 裁縫手芸教授書全 (Meter to Kujirajaku Taisho: Saihou Shugei Kyoujusho Zen). Roughly translated, it means “Complete Sewing & Handicrafts Textbook with both Meter and Shaku Measurements.” Prior to 1924, the standard measurement was a shaku, which could vary in length depending on what was being measured. The kujirajaku – literally “whale shaku” – was the standard for the clothing industry, and was approximately .378 meters or 14.9 inches. In 1924 Japan introduced the metric system, but shaku remained in use officially until 1966 (and they’re still used in kimono bolts and sword blades). As my book was published only four years after the introduction of the metric system, it makes a lot of sense that it would feature both methodologies!

Patterns for hakama!

On the title page, the red text to the left of the title indicates that this textbook is certified by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, and the sentence on the far left explains that this is an edition meant for possession by the Tokyo Sewing Study Group. The co-authors of the book are listed on the far right. Ichihashi Namiko Sensei is the primary author, and she was a lecturer/instructor for a high-level Tokyo ladies’ school, as well as a member of the Ministry of Education committee responsible for proctoring licensing examinations to secondary teachers. Akashi Chiuko Sensei is the secondary author, and she was previously a teacher at a high-level women’s adult education school.

Embroidering different designs.
Tying decorative knots.

When I bid on this book I actually thought it was only sewing techniques – I picked it up because I would really like to sew a kimono at some point – but when I got it I was excited to realize that the title is accurate and it also contains many additional handicrafts patterns! I don’t particularly need another clutch purse…but being able to see the sorts of things women might actually have been carrying and using during this period is SUPER interesting!

Ok but this is actually really cute you guys. So maybe I do need one… 😀

My book predates the Bunka Fashion College publications by about six years, as their textbooks weren’t released until 1934, but their trade school opened in 1923 and may well have been where one (or both) of the authors of my book taught at one point. It was an accredited dressmaking school for women (men didn’t start attending until 1957!), and its aim was to help support the growing popularity of Western-style clothing by teaching women how to sew not just for themselves, but also as part of the rapidly-expanding clothing industry. This change of women entering the workforce in larger numbers had begun in the Taisho era, and the moga, or modern gals, who followed Westernized fashion and lifestyle trends were thoroughly mainstream in the early Showa period.

The six-volume set of Bunka Yosai Koza (“Bunka Dressmaking Course”) was completed in 1935.

Likely the women who used my textbook would have had a sewing machine. Sewing machines came to Japan by the mid-1880s, and women who expected to be sewing professionally would almost certainly have been trained in their use even if they didn’t have one at home.

Ladies Sewing  (Kijo saihō no zu), Adachi Ginkō 安達吟光 (Japanese, active 1874–97), Triptych of woodblock prints; ink and color on paper, Japan
Ladies sewing, September 3, 1887. Photo credit the Met.
Photo Credit – Zentner Collection.

Beyond accessories, Japanese-style clothing, and Western-style clothing for adults, there is also a whole section on children’s clothing in my book that’s extremely adorable:

Look at these cute little apron dresses!
How good little girls and boys in early Showa Japan were dressed.

Something a keen-eyed reader may notice is the tiny characters next to many of the larger characters within the text. These are called furigana and their purpose is to tell you how to read the kanji, or Chinese characters, that you may not know. I can’t say whether or not the ladies of the time appreciated this, but I am incredibly grateful as the age of this text means there are many kanji that are no longer in standard usage, and I can definitely use the assist! 😀

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about Showa era fashion history, and taking a peek at this fascinating textbook! I definitely plan to sew a few things from this once I’m able to spend some time translating it (it’s slow going for your girl, haha!), but in the interim I have plenty of other fun projects in the works, and I look forward to seeing you back here next week on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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