Important Cultural PropertyNuihaku (Nō costume)—design of lily and court-cow-carriage patterns on brown fabric

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  • 1 suit
  • L 137.9 yuki 62.5
  • Azuchi-Momoyama period/16th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • I-3231

 This is a kimono made of a fabric called nerinuki featuring the luster of silk and a firm texture, the entire surface of which is covered with embroidery. Since the patterns are created using embroidery and gold leaf, this is called nuihaku (Noh costumes mainly for female roles, where patterns are created with embroidery and gold/silver leaf). This is a Noh costume owned by Konparu-za, one of the prestigious four Yamato Sarugaku Za (guild of Noh players). Since a red color is not used in this nuihaku, this must have been used for a mature motherly woman role. Compared with today's kimonos, the wrist openings of kimonos in the Azuchi-Momoyama period were very small as can be seen in this costume. Since at the time the Konparu-za was enjoying its golden age and particularly patronized by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in his later years, this Noh costume might have been worn in Noh performances played before the Toyotomi clan.
 Speaking of Noh costumes, we tend to think of gorgeous karaori (brilliant silk patterned fabric of Chinese origin) kimonos with lavish use of gold thread. However, the Azuchi-Momoyama period was a time when karaori was just beginning to be woven in Japan and karaori kimonos were luxury items worn only by people of a certain class. Since the most often used main costume in Noh was nuihaku at the time, nuihaku costumes of the Azuchi-Momoyama period are indeed beautiful. The patterns are embroidered freely with the lavish use of silk threads produced only in China, making the luster of the silk thread look shinier. In this nuihaku, in contrast to the bold and unconstrained lily pattern, the pattern of goshoguruma (a court carriage) is decorated in detail with seasonal plants by leveraging the texture of thinner silk threads and with a family crest that suggests a noble woman inside. While most of it has flaked off, the background of the embroidered patterns used to be covered with a tachiwaki (wave) pattern made of gold leaf strips, which was applied over the Buddhist cross-patterned ground. Since a Noh stage used to be set up on the premises of a samurai house or the precincts of a temple or shrine, these costumes must have increased their luster as players dance under the bright sunshine.
 Big lilies and very small goshoguruma like miniatures: A composition that the realism of the Edo period would never have permitted is adopted here in an innocent manner. This fantasy-like design seems to suggest that there was a special story from which the motif was taken, but it is unknown to us modern people. The mysterious unique design is also part of the charm of this nuihaku.