I am totally in love with boro, a Japanese cloth patched together from pieces of rags and tatters. These patched textiles were made and used by the people living in the far north of the country, an isolated area with a harsh climate and much poverty until the early twentieth century when economic conditions slowly began to improve. Due to their isolation, cloth was hard to come by and therefore not a scrap was ever wasted. The boro (literally, rags), used for clothing, blankets and so forth, was a humble textile - valued for its ability to protect from the bitter cold and treasured for its long life and many layers of personal history literally stitched into its very being. But it was also emblematic of their poverty and once it was no longer necessary to patch together one's clothing and blankets, the boro might well have disappeared from history if not for the efforts of Chuzaburo Tanaka. Tanaka was that rare person who fully appreciated the beauty inherent in the boro. He saw the patched and heavily stitched articles of daily life for what they are: exquisite examples of folk art in the form of cultural textile treasures. Starting in the mid-1960s, he literally walked the countryside, primarily in the far northern Aomori Prefecture, amassing an extensive collection of boro at a time when nobody else was the least bit interested in the raggedy, patched cloth.
I would love to own a small piece of boro and maybe one day I will. In lieu of owning a piece of the cloth, I am quite happy for now to take pleasure in the collections and publications of others. A wonderful book on the subject is Boro: Rags and Tatters From the Far North of Japan, an out-of-print paperback book which is lavishly illustrated with photographs from Mr. Tanaka's collection. Nearly all of what I know about boro is contained in this lovely book, which is written in both Japanese and English. Thank you for that, Yukiko Koide and Kyoichi Tsuzuki.
The book consists of 120 pages, almost all of which have exquisite color photographs of breathtaking, beautiful boro. It is impossible to choose "favorites" - they are truly all that special.
How can I express the pleasure I feel in looking at these photos? How to communicate the indebtedness I feel to Mr. Tanaka, for saving these beauties, and to the authors of the book for making it so accessible to the likes of me? I think Mr. Tanaka must feel a deep satisfaction knowing that he has saved such an important body of work, and the authors of the book must have a similar feeling, knowing they documented the essence of Mr. Tanaka's vision, in such a perfectly compelling and memorable way.
(Photos above are from Boro: Rags and Tatters From the Far North of Japan, by Yukiko Koide & Kyoichi Tsuzuki.)
Next post (or thereabouts) I will share with you a wonderful new book which discusses boro as well as other Japanese textiles, all from the perspective of mottainai (waste nothing). The book is Mottainai: The Fabric of Life - Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan, by Kawasaki Kei (Gallery Kei) and Stephen Szczepanek (Sri Threads). It's just recently landed in my mailbox and I can hardly wait to sit down with it. It is beautiful and wonderfully informative.