The Meiji Empress, known by her retired name, Shōken Kōtaigo, played an instrumental role in the modernization of Japan. Symbolic of her support for Westernization and international exchange is her adoption in 1886 of Western dress. On special occassions, she wore a full court costume with long train. In 1911 she gifted what is now her oldest extant Western-style fomal court dress (taireifuku), thought to date to 1889 or 1890, to the imperial convent Daishōji in Kyoto.
Today the delicate silk threads of the beautiful rose brocading are breaking from wear and stress. Heavy metalic embroidery puts undue tension on parts of the garment, and the sequins are falling off. In recognition of the importance of this taireifuku as an historical memorial that symbolizes Shōken’s role in diplomacy, fashion, support for the textile industry and its transition into a modern, international sphere, Meiji Shrine has partnered with the Medieval Japanese Studies Institute to foster a project aimed at conserving the dress and researching its world.
The project seeks to fund the conservation of the train and bodice; to sponsor workshops and an international symposium highlighting Empress Shōken; to investigate the provenance of the fabric, embroidery, and tailoring of the garment, as well as conservation methodology; and to recreate an appropriate skirt based on research into contemporary photographs and then current European fashions.
An exhibition coinciding with the Meiji Shrine symposium brought the dress and its conservation to public view in October 2020. In addition, the findings that grow out of the background research and conservation process will be published in the form of an illustrated book.