Essayist Shirasu’s sense of beauty shown in kimono exhibition

Masako Shirasu

By Hiroko Ihara/Japan News Staff Writer“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Can this famous quote also be applied to fashion? Regarding Masako Shirasu (1910-1998), a connoisseur essayist of beauty, it can.

At the “Masako Shirasu and Kimono” exhibition at the Matsuya Ginza department store in Tokyo, most of the about 150 items on display are her kimono, obi sashes, related accessories, tableware, photos and pieces from her art collection. There are also items that belonged to her mother, and noh costumes. All of the artifacts are on loan from Buaiso, a residence of Shirasu’s in Machida, Tokyo.

About two decades after her death, Shirasu still has many followers, particularly women who admire her essays on Buddhist statues, Japanese antiques, craftwork, trips to the countryside and kimono, as well as her own lifestyle of appreciating these things.

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  • The Japan News

    Shirasu’s kimono, pieces from her art collection and other items on display at an ongoing exhibition

  • Photo by Chiharu Ito

    Haori coats made with fabrics woven by Takao Tajima

In her photos on display, Shirasu poses in kimono in a quite relaxed manner, showing she knew what she liked and felt comfortable wearing it.

Although they are traditional Japanese attire, kimono are sometimes regarded as formal and difficult to wear. However, people can enjoy wearing them if they are given the chance.

“We designed this exhibition to convey the delight of life with kimono to visitors,” said Chika Takahashi, a supervisor of the exhibition. “We also selected items that can convince people of Shirasu’s approach to beauty.”

Beauty that never bores

Shirasu was a daughter of a noble family originally from Kagoshima Prefecture. With her privileged background and the influence of her mother, she developed her discerning taste through practicing noh, admiring old items and making friends with such literati as Hideo Kobayashi and Jiro Aoyama. She also studied in the United States for about four years when she was a teenager.

A turning point was when Shirasu began operating Kogei, a kimono and craftwork shop, in Ginza, Tokyo, when she was 46. It enabled her to work with talented weaving and dyeing artists such as Yoshihiro Yanagi, Machiko Furusawa and Takao Tajima.

Shirasu wrote in a book: “Tajima at first put too much emphasis on making works with a tasteful atmosphere. When I put on his kimono, I noticed it lacked firmness, so I told him. He quietly listened to me ... We’d been working together this way for 20-odd years until he became a first-class craftsman.”

The shop mainly sold what she wanted to wear herself, Shirasu’s daughter wrote for the exhibition. “My mother was happy that people liked what she thought was good, rather than possessing it by herself,” she said.

Many kimono at the exhibition are shown on mannequins the way Shirasu wore them, according to her photos and her family’s memories. They show how she coordinated her items and how kimono were a cherished part of her life. For example, she liked to wear soft, thin sashes, an informal type that are easy to put on and may be worn for a long time.

They may look ordinary at first glance, as they do not bear gorgeous embroidery or flashy patterns, but on closer inspection, visitors will notice it is only a deceptive first impression. The closer you look, the more you will be attracted to their depth and elaborateness.

This trait is shown in her writing: “True quality items look ordinary at first, but their beauty never bores you.”

Shirasu liked beautiful items but was never extravagant, as indicated by her three rings on display. She wrote: “I like jewelry, but what I want is very expensive. So I use old glass beads instead.”

The exhibition runs until Jan. 16 and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (5 p.m. on Jan. 16).

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