A Treasured Legacy: Ceremonial Court Dress of the Meiji Empress

This symposium and exhibition mark the completion of a multi-year project in which Meiji Jingu participated to research and conserve the oldest extant formal Western-style ceremonial court dress (taireifuku, or manteaux de cour) worn by the Meiji Empress (Shōken Kōtaigō), who donated it to Daishōji Imperial Convent in Kyoto during her lifetime.  The project, which began in 2018, underwent five years of investigative research in Japan and the West to confirm that the dress’s tailoring and embroidery were executed in Japan and that there was a high likelihood that the textile was also produced in Japan.  

The symposium brings together scholars from Japan and overseas who have been involved in the project, as well as textile conservators, curators, and artisans with expertise in restoring and creating archival mounts for historical fashion.  Each will present their research methodologies and discoveries. A panel will discuss how the taireifuku deepened their understanding of the empress and how the empress’s presence was felt as project collaborators worked toward preserving the past, inspiring cutting-edge craftsmanship. 

Concurrently, a special exhibition of the conserved taireifuku will be exhibited at the Meiji Jingu Museum.  Each attendee of the symposium attendees will receive a free entrance ticket (¥1,000) to the exhibition, valid for one entrance to the exhibition (April 6 through May 6, 2024).   Do not miss this rare opportunity to experience the exquisite taireifuku and learn the rich historical and contemporary tales of this extraordinary formal court dress.

Opening Session 13:30-14:00

-Message: Barbara Ruch (Honorary Director, Medieval Japanese Studies Institute)

-Project Introduction: Monica Bethe (Director, Medieval Japanese Studies Institute)

Session 1: Research Presentations 14:00-15:20

-The Evolution of Women’s Court Dress Fashion: East Meets West in the Empress’s Court Dress Joanna Marschner(Senior Curator, Historic Royal Palaces)

-The Textile and its Secrets

Monica Bethe

-Eccentric Style: The Embroidery on Daishōji’s Taireifuku:

Sharon Takeda(Senior Curator and Department Head of Costume and Textiles, Los Angels County Museum of Art)

-The Meiji Empress’s Court Dresses in Historical Context

Koka Yoshimura (Curator, Bunka Fashion Research Institute, Bunka Gakuen University)

Break 15:20-15:30

Session 2: Project Collaborators 15:30-16:00

-Meet the artisans, consultants, and sponsors who contributed to the project 

Session 3: The Empress and Her Legacy 16:00-17:00

-Panelists: Joanna Marschner × Sharon Takeda × Monica Bethe × Koka Yoshimura

-Moderator: Michiyo Katsura (Executive Director, Medieval Japanese Studies Institute)

MC: Yoshiko Imaizumi (Senior Researcher, Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute)

 To reserve a ticket for the symposium use this QR code or access from here.

Shōken Kōtaigo Taireifuku Project

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 1909 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.