Millie Creighton is an anthropologist, Japan specialist, Asianist and Associate Professor based in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She was one of the founders of the Centre for Japanese Research at UBC and continues to work in conjunction with it and on the Executive Board of the Centre for Korean Research. She has done extensive research in Japan on department stores, consumerism, tourism, textiles, popular culture, gender, minorities, work, leisure, and identity, with comparisons to other parts of Asia. She received the Canon Prize for her work on Japanese department stores showing how department store marketing reflected nostalgia and the search for community, tradition, and cultural identity. She combined interests in textiles, tourism, and nostalgia by researching women’s involvements in live-in silk workshops to recover textile traditions, and Japanese identity, while engaging in a nostalgic tourism of remote Japanese locations.

Silk and Selves: Contemporary Japanese Women Cultivating Silk While Weaving Cultural, Communal, and Personal Identities

Based on participant-observation research, I present Japanese women’s involvements in residential silk weaving workshops in a remote area of the Japanese alps in Nagano Prefecture. Through these seminars, women return to a form of work as leisure that was often tedious to former generations of women required to do this for family finances, and hazardous to the health of women working in textile factories. Using the expectation that women act as curators and perpetuators of Japanese cultural tradition allows their engagement in these seminars away from their usual domestic and work duties. While rediscovering sericulture and silk weaving, they enact a Japanese cultural identity globally associated with a silk weaving heritage, and their own relational identities with others. They also find a culturally valued cloaking mechanism for their engagements in pursuits in search of their own selves and self enhancement outside of their family obligations, while creating beautiful silk textiles.