Embroidery. The reader may tire of being told of each art in succession that it was imported into Japan from China via Korea by Buddhist missionaries. But when such is the fact, what can be done but state it? The greatest early Japanese artist in embroidery of whom memory has been preserved was Chūjō Hime, a Buddhist nun of noble birth, who, according to the legend, was an incarnation of Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy. After enduring relentless persecution at the hands of a cruel stepmother, she retired to the temple of Taema-dera in Yamato, where her grand embroidered picture, or mandara as it is called, of the Buddhist heaven with its many mansions, is still shown. The gods themselves are said to have aided her in this work.
The embroidery and brocade and painted silks of more modern days possess exquisite beauty. A comparatively recent invention is the birōdo-yūzen, in which ribbed velvet is used as the ground for pictures which are real works of art, the velvet being partly cut, partly dyed, partly painted. Pity only, as we could not help noticing on a recent visit to Kyōto, that the embroiderers tend more and more to drop the patterns of dragons and phenixes and flower-cars, etc., etc., which made their fame, and actually elect to work from photographs instead, thus degrading free art to the level of slavish imitation. They informed us that the globe-trotters prefer these less esthetic pieces with a real jinrikisha or a real street lamp-post to the formal, but oh! how beautiful, fancies of an earlier date. Doubtless new-comers have to be educated up to these things. However, being but a man, while some of our readers are sure to be ladies whose sharp eyes would soon detect mistakes, we must abstain from entering into any further details or disquisitions. We would only recommend all who can to visit the Kyōto embroidery and velvet-shops, and to take plenty of money in their purse. There may be two opinions about Japanese painting; there can be only one about Japanese embroidery.
Note in passing, as an instance of topsy-turvydom, that comparatively few Japanese embroiderers are women. All the best pieces are the work of men and boys.