ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for Penguin Awareness Day: Japanese penguins?

penguin haori (full view)
detail of penguin design
exhibit label

Haori with Penguins and Icebreaker Ships
Japan, mid-Shōwa period, 1957-58
silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft

[photos by author]

Penguins (Spheniscidae) are found almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere, with only the Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) skirting the other side of the equator. They definitely aren’t native to anywhere near Japan!

[Peppermint Narwhal Creative]

I saw this haori on display as part of the fantastic The Life of Animals in Japanese Art exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. As explained by the exhibit label, this unusual textile design was printed to commemorate the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition of 1956-57 (although it is incorrectly identified as Japan’s first such expedition – it was actually the second, the first being the Japanese Antarctic Expedition of 1910-12.)

The piece is also featured in the official exhibition catalog, which includes this additional information:

This design, unusual for a waterside bird motif, commemorates Japan’s first [sic] expedition to Antarctica in 1956-1957. Occurring a decade after Japan’s defeat in World War II, this expedition was seen as a symbol of the nation’s recovery. While the use of a penguin motif is unknown in Japanese garments of the Edo period, this piece shows how modern garment makers eagerly absorbed motifs from all over.

[The Life of Animals in Japanese Art, p. 231]
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