The Shishu Ladies of Hilo

The Shishu Ladies of Hilo: Japanese Embroidery in Hawai`i

SHIHO S. NUNES
SARA NUNES-ATABAKI
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr4qw
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  • Book Info
    The Shishu Ladies of Hilo
    Book Description:

    A carefully documented and illustrated account of the stitching community on the Big Island of Hawai'i from the mid 1930s to the late 1960s. This award-winning book traces the teaching ofshishu(Japanese embroidery) in Hawai'i and describes in detail the modifications made to traditional motifs and materials. In the 1930s Ima Shinoda began teaching groups of predominantly nisei women in and around Hilo the centuries-old art of Japanese embroidery known asshishu.Trained in Japan, she combined her talents for teaching and stitchery to inspire and instruct a new generation in the demanding art form. Together with her husband, Yoshio, who created the distinctive, eye-catching designs used by hers students, Ima Shimoda was responsible for not only furthering the practice ofshishuin Hawai'i but ensuring its existence as a vital link for many nisei to their cultural past and its traditions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6503-0
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Pat Hickman

    The sociocultural history of Hawai‘i as told through textiles is only now being written. This evolving history includes the narrative account of an immigrant couple who brought the needlework art of shishū from Japan to Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, over eighty years ago and taught it to a new generation. Their story is joined with that of the nisei women who learned this art from them. When such different worlds meet, remarkable changes take place in textile history.

    This carefully documented account of the stitching community created by these teachers and their pupils makes a significant contribution...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Conventions
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. PART I The Hilo Shishū
    • 1 Gathering the Threads
      (pp. 3-6)
      SARA NUNES-ATABAKI

      When my grandfather died in 1973, he left hundreds of original and adapted designs that he had drawn for my grandmother’s embroidery classes. Untouched since my grandparents’ move from Hilo to Honolulu in 1969, the drawings lay stacked on shelves in my mother’s house, gathering dust and growing brittle with age. Some were on tissue paper, most were on brown wrapping paper. Many were worn through by countless tracings and held together by layers of cellophane tape, now yellow and peeling like skin. Others were dotted with tiny pinholes, indicating they had been used in a painstaking transfer process for...

    • 2 The Hilo Shishū Community
      (pp. 7-10)
      SHIHO S. NUNES

      In the more than three decades between the mid-1930s and 1969, a group of predominantly nisei (second generation) women in Hilo and surrounding communities on the island of Hawai‘i produced a unique body of shishū works under the tutelage of my mother, Ima Shinoda, using the designs created for them by my father, Yoshio Shinoda. The embroidered pieces, finished into various home furnishings and clothing, are striking in their artistry of design and execution, their vibrancy and blending of color, and their sheer quantity and variety. Treasured by the women and their families as embellishments for their homes, presented to...

    • 3 Old Ways Done Differently
      (pp. 11-30)
      SHIHO S. NUNES

      “Jungle shishū!” was the spontaneous reaction of Roger S. Keyes, a specialist in Japanese art, when he saw my father’s floral designs and learned that many were stitched in rich colors on black velvet. Whether prompted by the hibiscus and plumeria drawn life-size for stitching or the opulence of reds, pinks, and greens on black velvet, his unstudied response strikes at the heart of the uniqueness of the Hilo works and suggests something of the nature and causes of the process that result in changes in traditional forms.¹

      The stitched pieces tell us much about domestic and social life, the...

  8. PART II Threads from the Past
    • 4 An Enduring Partnership
      (pp. 33-46)
      SHIHO S. NUNES

      My father was born on June 29, 1887, the youngest of four children of landed farmers in Chiyo-Mura, Aza-Yamanako-Gun, Nagano, the prefecture known as the Roof of Japan. Fortunately for him, he was not put to work in the fields as were his two older brothers, but encouraged to pursue his studies. He seems to have made the most of his opportunity. Chiyo-Mura in those days was a tiny mountain community without a village school, and attending classes meant a walk of several miles over rough roads to the town below. For many years and in all weather, my father...

    • 5 Life Was Hard!
      (pp. 47-60)
      SARA NUNES-ATABAKI

      “Shishu Ladies” is a fitting name for the group of women whose love of needlework brought them together as students of my grandparents. It suggests a certain period, a certain generation, and a certain constellation of qualities and values defining that time. The stories the women told my mother and me about their growing-up years brought to life something of that era. And listening to them as we began our research, we came quite naturally to the name “Shishu Ladies.”

      The term “shishū” was a comfortable part of the women’s vocabulary, sometimes functioning in surprising ways as an adjective or...

    • 6 “Great Were the Ladies of Meiji!”
      (pp. 61-78)
      SHIHO S. NUNES

      It would not be far from the truth to say that shishū arrived in Hawai‘i literally on the skirts of women’s kimono and on their obi, all neatly folded intokōri,the wicker trunks issei women brought with them from Japan. Between 1885 and 1894 nearly 5,500 women came as wives and family members of government-contract laborers; 32,000 more followed between 1908 and 1924, some 20,000 of them as picture brides joining their partners in marriages arranged by go-betweens.¹ Most of the women brought in theirkōriat least one formal silkmontsuki(kimono with family crest), together with brocaded...

  9. PART III From Design to Stitched Art
    • 7 Design for Needle and Thread
      (pp. 81-97)
      SHIHO S. NUNES

      My father’s workshop was a low-ceilinged room in the underhouse of their home in Pu‘u‘eo, a residential neighborhood of Hilo just across the Wailuku River at the Hāmākua end of town. The room was reached from the kitchen on the main floor by a wooden stairway open to the elements. In rain or shine, my father descended the dozen steps, stooped through the low door, and crossed the concrete slab that accommodated a storage closet, a washing machine, two laundry tubs, and a toilet the size of a broom closet. He made his way carefully past my mother’s white crock...

    • 8 Thread into Art
      (pp. 99-112)
      SHIHO S. NUNES

      In her pleasant and unpretentious way, my mother was admirably suited to help her students bring their selected designs to life through the artistry of color and stitchery. First and foremost she was a teacher; she had the temperament and ability to communicate her knowledge and skills to her students. Whether teaching the reading and writing of Japanese or the art of shishū, she was in her element, bringing to her work a wholehearted, unstinting enthusiasm and enjoyment. Her teaching career had begun in Japan immediately upon graduation, and it continued nearly unbroken for over thirty years until World War...

    • 9 The Shishū Experience
      (pp. 113-128)
      SARA NUNES-ATABAKI

      The class at Mountain View began with a chance encounter at Food Fair, a Hilo supermarket, between a shishū student of Grandmother’s and Fortunata Cabamongan, variously a flower packer, field worker, and housewife. Mrs. Cabamongan recalls, “I saw this lady carrying a square frame. It was a wood-rose. I asked her, ‘Obasan, where did you learn this?’ She told me, ‘Mrs. Shinoda.’ So I went with her [to Mrs. Shinoda’s house]. Sensei agreed to teach if I could put up five or more ladies. I rushed home and called Mrs. Yamada first—bless her soul, she’s passed away—and I...

  10. APPENDIX A A Short History of Shishū in Japan
    (pp. 129-130)
  11. APPENDIX B Roster of the Shishu Ladies
    (pp. 131-132)
  12. Appendix C Notes
    (pp. 133-138)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 139-141)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 142-142)