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Garrett Kellogg

Page history last edited by gbk29@... 15 years, 2 months ago


Ainu Robes

     The Ainu of Japan are considered to be the island’s indigenous group, similar to the Maori of New Zealand. Modern day Ainu live on the island of Hokkaido but past territories stretched north to the neighboring islands, Sakhalin and Kurile.  Clothing is an important part of Ainu culture because they would not be able to survive at the northern latitudes where Hokkaido lies.  Traditional Ainu attire is a robe made of varying degrees from Japanese elm bark, nettles and imported cotton and other fabrics.  The robes, known as attush, incorporate all aspects of Ainu belief and culture.


From birth, Ainus wear blank robes. As they get older their coming of age, at 15 years old, is associated with tattoo and their first attush robe with intricate embroidery and design.  The journey of the robe starts at least a year before coming of age because it takes an Ainu woman a full year to fabricate and decorate. Adding to that amount of time is the individual design created for each wearer, the seamstress must contemplate color, embroidery and fabric as well as envision how the garment will look on the specific individual.  Besides, mulling over design, the fabricator must plan ahead to obtain the material, if the robe incorporates silk, cotton or wool, these materials must be procured through trade, which can take many months.


The robes are apart of growing up but the designs on the robes also embody religious beliefs.  In the Ainu world, there are good and evil spirits in every object, living or dead, on earth.  Good spirits are appeased through worship and sacrifice while evil spirits are warded off through ceremonies and symbols.  Protective adornment is found in their tattoos and in the embroidery of robes. All openings are surrounded by thorn patterns to keep evil spirits from entering the body, like surrounding your body with thick bramble or barbwire.


The robes embody the Ainu culture. Currently, the Ainu are experiencing suppression by the Japanese government but as their strife begins to lift and they become less afraid to speak out as an Ainu person researchers will be able to learn more from the oral histories and thus deeper understanding of their traditional adornment.


Comments (6)

Jessica Tessman said

at 8:07 pm on May 27, 2009

Are the robes made to be unique to the wearer, like moko tattoo?

Sara Hughes said

at 7:25 pm on May 31, 2009

It is very interesting that the Ainu robes are often made from elm trees, because in Steve's presentation, he mentioned that the elm tree is part of the origin story of man, so I am wondering if this is just a very useful plant or if there is more meaning behind it. Additionally, I thought that it is neat to compare the Ainu robes with Chilkat robes (in Emmy's presentation), because the gender roles are slightly different. Although men in both situation acquire the materials and the women make the robes, the Ainu robe designs are developed by women, while the Chilkat robe designs are created by men and woven by women. Since the women spend so much time contemplating the design and the wearer, does the spirit that goes into the construction also somehow exhibit the spirit of the wearer or just the woman who created it?

Melanie Stephens said

at 8:58 pm on Jun 2, 2009

I know that you mentioned that some of the designs on the robes were thorns which makes sense if you are hoping to ward off spirits. I would be interested to know what some of the other designs stem from and if these seemingly geometric designs come from other natural sources.

leish10m said

at 9:27 pm on Jun 2, 2009

Do the designs have any significance? Do they correspond to a family line or trade?

simonl7@u.washington said

at 7:43 am on Jun 3, 2009

I never knew about the Ainu people! My brother has lived in Japan for five years right around there and he has never mentioned them, most probably because he does not know they are there! I like how you elaborated on the type of materials their robes were made out of and also how they harvested it. It was particularly interesting about the care and process involved in the elm bark. Was the process of making the robe more important than the actual product? You mentioned how each stick was the woman’s soul going into the robe and how it was part of the protection like the thorn designs around the sleeves. It reminds me of when the priests made the Hawaiian robes. I would have liked to know more about the stitching process and if there were any prayers said while making the robes and if so what they were and meant. Overall great job, it was really interesting!

Blanche Dy said

at 11:10 am on Jun 3, 2009

The robes of the Ainu people are very unique and have an interesting relation to their lifestyle.
I wonder if there's any special method behind choosing each of the material used and its design that can help identify the robe to its wearer.

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