Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Vocabulary: Asa

A non-geometric representation of asa leaves on yukata

Last year, I began the April challenge with a very similar entry: Asanoha. At that time, I was focusing on examples of the motif, but this year the focus is, of course, a little different as I endeavor to define some of the more common (and not so common) terms that I have come across in my own studies.

Many of the motifs we looked at last year were derived from natural elements and asanoha (hemp leaf or hemp flower) was no exception. But why should the humble hemp plant be immortalized in such a manner? It does not carry the romance of sakura or nadeshiko (both considered to be exemplars of fleeting and feminine beauty).

To my mind, the simple answer is because hemp is practical. Asa can be cultivated and utilized not just for rope, but spun into finer fibers as well. It is a very popular alternative to cotton, and though the weave might be a bit stiffer, it is not uncomon to find unlined (hitoe) kimono woven from asa suitable for summer wear.

Asa also has associations with purity, and as such is often used for the raiment of Shinto priests. With such powerful implications of protection as well as purity, it's no surprise that the asanoha motif would be a popular pattern for garments not made of the fiber itself.

Geometric motif known as Asanoha on a (likely synthetic fiber) obi
If you'd like a little more in-depth history of asa in Japanese culture, I found this article from The Japan Times to be quite informative.

I hope that you will continue to follow me in this more casual survey of terms and phrases as we wend our way through the month!

1 comment:

  1. I will be following your posts. I appreciate your explanations of fabric, history and tradition.