Yumiko Kamada. Woven Flowers: Persian and Indian Carpets in Early Modern Japan
Spanning the month of July, Kyoto’s Gion Festival has been celebrated since the 9th century. One of the most distinctive and popular features of the festival is the series of floats, funded by the city’s Shimogyo and Nakagyo areas, that parade through the town in a tradition dating to the 14th century. Decorated with a variety of domestic and imported textiles, the floats have collectively become known as a ‘moving museum’. The festival itself celebrates the Yasaka Shrine, which was built to pay tribute to the Shinto deity Gion Tenjin, venerated for his power to grant protection from plagues. Research conducted by Kojiro Yoshida, Nobuko Kajitani, Daniel Walker and Charles Ellis in 1986 reveals that some of the textiles used in the festival are Persian and Indian carpets dating to the 17th or 18th century. Among the examples brought to Japan by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), about twenty differ markedly from Persian or typical northern Indian carpets. In his 1997 exhibition catalogue Flowers Underfoot, Daniel Walker attributes this anomalous group to south India, also known as the Deccan. Textile historian Steven Cohen has also expanded the body of knowledge on Deccani textiles and carpets since 1986. The present author’s 2011 dissertation, ‘Flowers on Floats: The Production, Circulation, and Reception of Early Modern Indian Carpets’, focuses on the type of carpets produced in the Deccan for sale primarily to Indian, European and Japanese buyers. Another Shinto festival at Nagahama city, the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival, also uses Deccani carpets as float covers. In this short article, the author explores the circumstances in which Persian and Indian carpets were brought to early modern Japan and how they were used.