The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Cross Cultural Studies of Handlooms and Textiles

Joint Research Coordinator YOSHIMOTO Shinobu

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Based on a paper by joint research organizer YOSHIMOTO Shinobu published in 1987 in the Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology (Volume 12, No. 2) entitled "Principles for the Basic Classification of Handlooms," Yoshimoto and the other participants intend to take as their object of study handlooms previously used throughout the world and the textiles woven on the handlooms to shed light on the cross-cultural and historical development of weaving technologies and their position as a core technology in the history of humankind. Another major goal will be to clarify the current situation for weaving cultures which are deeply tied into both the industrial and IT revolutions. Furthermore, this joint research will also attempt to describe current conditions in which, as a result of the mechanization and mass production stemming from the industrial and IT revolutions, forms of handiwork cultivated by humankind since ancient times are in danger of extinction, and suggest how, by carefully investigating the core technology of weaving, we can discover the appropriate role for work done with the hands as analog systems in the future digital age.

Research Results

The major achievements of the collaborative study, conducted for three and a half years between October 2010 and March 2014 are;

  • Holding of the Special Exhibition - “The Warp and Weft of Weaving: Handlooms and Textiles of the World” (held from September 13 to November 27, 2012)
  • Publishing of the book associated with this exhibition - “Handlooms and Textiles of the World (Japanese edition)” (published by the National Museum of Ethnology).
  • Publishing of the feature article - “From the Fields of Handloom (Japanese edition)”, which appeared in the 144th edition of “Ethnological Quarterly” (published by the Senri Foundation).

Furthermore, through this collaborative study, it has been clearly demonstrated that the technology of textile weaving is a core technology in human history and it has extended not only into the Industrial Revolution, but also into the IT Revolution. This collaborative study has also defined the issue of "What is 'textiles', 'looms' and 'weaving'?", which the researchers of the world have been struggling to define and has been progressing ambiguously, as;

  • “textile/woven fabric” is “constructed by combining weft threads with warp treads to which tension is applied”.
  • “loom” is “a device for combining weft threads with warp threads with tension”.
  • “loom” is “a device for combining weft threads with warp threads with tension”.

Specification of these concrete definitions are considered as a major academic breakthrough.
In addition, this collaborative study has concluded that, after the Industrial Revolution, traditional manufacturing system based on handwork such as weaving has gradually been replaced by powered machines, and the worldwide spread of this mechanized mass production has resulted in the continuous abandonment of manufacturing system based on handwork, which has lead the modern society into a serious situation, unprecedented in the history of mankind.  Therefore, the Special Exhibition has displayed “Return to Handwork“ as a message and have offered many visitors to take part in weaving sessions to experience hands-on weaving. This is also considered an achievement of this collaborative study.