Multi-kilogram kimono like this donja helped families of Aomori, northern Japan, survive deadly winters. They may even have preserved the family unit. Donja like this would have evolved over a century, with four generations of a household maintaining, modifying, and adding to it. A joke went that the best donja stayed standing when you took it off. They were not for wearing outside. The whole family slept under one. Under these circumstances, you could hardly go to bed angry; the donja performed a community role too.

Boro donja shoulders

From the exhibition caption: Donja is to be used as family: the father or mother would be in the middle with their children beside them. Children would sleep naked holding onto their parents inside donja. …Today, people might be skeptical about the fact of sleeping together, all naked, but it followed the same concept of dogs or cats sleeping together for warmth. It was known, even at that time, that our body heat is greater when there is skin-to-skin contact. When naked bodies get close to one another, it is simply warm to both the body and heart. …During those days, quarrels within the family did not occur. Even if there was one during the daytime, once it got darker and colder, naturally and inevitably we forgave each other and came together.

Boro donja 2

You find the donja along with many other pieces of this painstakingly recycled Aomori daily wear that has come to be called boro (which literally means rag), at the eastern approach to Sensoji temple. The exhibition is compiled by ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, who has spent his life collecting some 20,000 pieces of boro. Boro is like an unintentionally subversive form of found art. Its mere existence challenges the disposable fashion aesthetic of Uniqlo-H&M. You feel Tanaka’s passion for these ciphers of his childhood from his notes to such pieces as the sleeping sheet, called bodo, used when mothers gave birth.

Boro bodo cardBoro bodo

There is even a nod to boro fashion with these “stylish” 70s-type mannequins!

Boro models topBoro models bottom

Amuse museum is at 2-34-3 Asakusa, Taito-ku, tel 03-5806-1181.
Open 1000–1800, closed Mon.

Boro colourfulBoro coat1Boro coat2