Gallery Connections: Beauty in a White Kimono

In early September, Japan will celebrate hassaku, a centuries-old festival that encourages a bountiful harvest. It also commemorates the famous shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who in 1590 on hassaku entered Edo Castle for the first time. As the Tokugawa clan gained power and peace settled over Japan, the festival grew in importance.

Today, celebrants often parade in white costumes that recall those worn by their ancestors. Years ago, the feudal lords known as daimyos wore white ceremonial garments to pay their respects to their powerful leader during the festival. Tokugawa shoguns greeting these families also wore white, which became associated with hassaku.

Even the playful and witty courtesans of the Yoshiwara district of Edo (present-day Tokyo) participated in this festival. Their intentions were not, however, entirely respectful. Dressed in all-white kimonos, they paraded the main streets of Edo—mimicking (and gently mocking) the traditions of the elite samurai class.

One of these fashion-conscious ladies appears on this decorative hanging scroll in the Kimbell’s collection. Pausing to glance over her left shoulder, she proudly displays her magnificent white silk kimono, which was worn only for hassaku. The red sash that ties in front indicates her youth and high rank as a courtesan. A strand of hair dangling against her cheek adds a seductive touch to the formality of her dress. Just imagine this lovely woman, along with hundreds of other courtesans, moving in a procession through the capital city of Edo.