The Itchiku Kubota Kimono Exhibit At The Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto

I knew I had to see them for myself as I looked at the screen of my wife Laila’s iPhone. She had just come home from the Itchiku Kubota exhibit at the Textile Museum of Canada on Centre Street in downtown Toronto and the two dozen images she had snapped were stunning.  As she gave me a rundown of the work involved in making the kimono(s), the cliché that came into my head was the classic – “I don’t know much about (textile) art, but I know what I like!”


 Exhibit open until May 13, 2018!

I spent the next day net surfing my way to some articles on the elaborate and multiple time-consuming steps Kubota took to create his kimono art. I came across lots of unknown Japanese terms which led to more reading – and to the outline of his biography.

Leaving school at 14,  he spent the next six years learning the basics of his craft with a master kimono painter. It was a visit to the National Museum in Tokyo when he was 20 which would set the course for the rest of his life. What he saw was a piece of textile done in the lost traditional fabric dying technique (Tsujigahana).  He would later write –

“Restraining the pounding of my heart, I gazed intently at that small piece of fabric exuding a subtle and profound atmosphere (…). It carried a quality that was almost plaintive and mysterious. In the hall which was practically devoid of visitors, I continued to look at that small piece of fabric, as if placed under a spell, for over three hours”.(Itchiku Kubota, in “Itchiku Tsujigahana : works of Itchiku Kubota”, 1979

By the early 1960’s – he was now in his forties – accepting that he could not recreate the old technique, he turned to innovating with modern adaptations which included using

  • a silk crepe fabric instead of the traditional nerinuki fabric and
  • synthetic dyes instead of natural ones.

His first kimonos were put on public display for the first time in 1977 when he was sixty!  In all, he would create over 120 of his kimono masterpieces,  of which 41 are on display at the Toronto exhibit.

The very first one you see – it is on the second floor near the steps leading to the third-floor exhibition space where the rest of the collection hangs – is perhaps the most traditional one of them all.

Up the stairs and a turn to the right and more wow!

Kubota’s Symphony of Light: The Universe – Ha: A Curling Wave of Magma

Kubota Symphony of Light the Universe En Chuu/ A Blazing Passion kimono

Kubota Symphony of Light the Universe En Chuu A Blazing Passion kimono

Kubota Symphony of Light the Universe En Chuu A Blazing Passion kimono

Kubota Symphony of Light the Universe Zu Dragon Head kimono

What Goes Into The Making Of A Kubota Kimono:


Kubota – Production Techniques

Kubota – Steps 1 and 2

Kubota – Production Techniques continued

The Mount Fuji Kimono Series:

Mount Fuji series of kimono – #2

Mount Fuji series of Kimono – #3

Kubota – Mount Fuji series – #4

Symphony of Light series – a set of six kimonos

Symphony of Light Seasons - series of 6 kimono (1983-1986)

Symphony of Light Seasons – series of 6 kimonos (1983-1986)

Kubota Symphony of Light The Seasons side view

Kubota Symphony of Light The Seasons side view

Symphony of Light The Seasons - first two kimono

Symphony of Light The Seasons – first two kimonos

Kobota - Symphony of Light - Seasons kimono 3 and 4

the middle two panels of Kubota’s Symphony of Light: Seasons – 3. Kougaki/A Tapestry of Colour (1984) and 4. Benigara/The Purple Hour (1984)

Kubota – Symphony of Light – the Seasons – Kimono 5 (Kamimurasaki / the Uncertainty of Evening (1984) and 6. Jo / Autumn Prologue (1986) and 6.

Another set of three kimonos from the 1986-1987 Symphony of Light: Seasons period are titled:

  1. Ryou / Certitude (1986)
  2. Hour / Change (1986)
  3. Hin / Nostalgia (1987)

All feature tie-dyeing, ink painting, and embroidery on silk crepe which has been woven with gold wefts.

This set of three kimonos is followed by a couple of others in the Symphony of Light: Seasons series, the first a collection of four focussed on late autumn and early winter –

info panel for the set of four kimonos – Symphony of Light – Seasons – Late Autumn et al

Kubota – Symphony of Light – Seasons – four kimono – Late Autumn to Sudden Snow

another set of four kimonos from Kubota’s Symphony of Light – Seasons – series (1987-1988)

An hour later I was back to the beginning of the exhibit.  I did another go-round, this time looking for detail as opposed to overview shots.  Here are a few of the sixty or so I took!

detail from Kubota kimono

Kubota kimono detail

Kubota kimono detail – dancing flames

Mountains beyond mountains – a Kubota kimono detail – portrait view

The Itchiku Kubota Art Museum info panel

The Kubota Museum is located about 50 kilometers to the west of Tokyo. Tripadvisor reviewers (245 and counting) give it a close to perfect rating – see here for comments. A bonus for visitors is the view of Mount Fuji some twelve kilometers to the south on the other side of Lake Kawaguchi.

the Kubota Museum N of Lake Kawaguchi  – see here for Google map

If Tokyo is not in your immediate travel plans (!) then you need to get to the Textile Museum in Toronto to experience   ARTISTRY IN SILK: THE KIMONO OF ITCHIKU KUBOTA for yourself.

Hopefully, my photos will have given you a reason to go. I will say, however, that as much as I tried to get the colour balance right, I know that what you see on your computer or iPhone screen does not come close to the luminescent reality of the kimonos as you stand in front of them.

One thing you might do – that I did not – is ask if there is a guide available to explain some of what is involved in the production of these masterpieces.

Textile Museum – 55 Centre Street off Dundas – see Google map here

After Toronto, the exhibit moves on to Utica, New York where it will be on display from June 10 to September 16 at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art. See here for an article previewing the Utica show.

Additional Resources –

The Toronto Public Library system has three copies of Dale Gluckman’s  Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota (2008).  I put a hold on a copy in early March at which time I was #5 in the waiting line.

It looks like one will become available in mid-April just as I head off to the airport for a three-week trek/climb in Upper Mustang in Nepal!  See here for the Toronto Public Library details.

The book is also available at Amazon but only from third-party sellers and with a starting price of $100. U.S.


More Toronto Art To Consider!

If you want to make a day of it in downtown T.O., there are other things to check out. Here are a couple of possibilities.  The first is free!  Click on the titles to access the posts…

1. Checking Out Downtown Toronto’s Graffiti Art Scene

Death the All-Embracing

Death the All-Embracing

2. The Chinese Temple Murals And Statues Of Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum

overview of Taoist and Buddhist murals - ROM Bishop White Gallery



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5 Responses to The Itchiku Kubota Kimono Exhibit At The Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto

  1. guylainespencer says:


  2. Len says:

    Fabulous! Where is it going Centennial??

  3. Elizabeth Constable says:

    What a fabulous account and review of the exhibition of Ichiku Kubota’s kimonos! I discovered your blog in the process of reading about Kubota for a short article I’m writing about a US shibori artist, Doshi, who was influenced in her own artistic practice by Kubota’s techniques. The article will appear in Silkworm, the quarterly magazine of SPIN (Silk Painters International). I’d love to use a couple of your photos and credit you as photographer. Would that be possible? You can also reach me at

    • true_north says:

      Elizabeth, go right ahead! I am just glad I took the time to get to the exhibit!

      I need to pay more attention to my wife when she waxes enthusiastically about all things shibori and Japanese textile in general. I certainly was when she showed me those iPhone pix!

      I should note that after I wrote the post I got the book I mention at the end of the write-up. The panels dealing with the how of Kubota’s technique come from that book. The pix of the kimonos themselves are mine and you can do what you want with them!

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