The tradition of the Araihari Shop
By Kaitlyn Munro
I recently travelled to Tokyo to visit family, and naturally found myself surrounded by beautiful textiles and traditions. One of my favorite museums was The Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, that tells the story of Tokyo during the Edo Period, 1603-present day.
In the permanent exhibit, you can wander through an area of life-sized buildings that represent “munewari nagaya” or typical tenement row houses where people lived and worked. Displayed is a traditional araihari shop where kimonos were taken for cleaning and care. These shops began to appear in Japan at the beginning of the Edo period.
What exacting and time consuming work to wash a treasured kimono! First, the kimono was fully disassembled. Greater value was placed on the actual fabric, its quality, rather than the stitching or construction. These prized panels of fabric, often silk, were cleaned, re starched, mended, and reconstructed into the kimono. Long cherished – when kimonos became too worn, they were often converted into other clothing, ties, or household cloths.
There were two main methods of drying the kimono panels. Itabari refers to the method of cleaning, starching, and stretching or “blocking” the cloths onto wooden boards (much like painting and scroll mounting). Shinshibari is when the cloth panels are dried by hanging tensioned between two bamboo bars or shinshi. Different techniques were used for different fabrics, but the Itabari, the easier method, became more widely practiced.
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, be sure to check out the Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum!