japan knitting

knitting during the war

I was inspired by some old illustrations of knitwear that I found

I looked online a bit for some information on knitting in 1930s-1950s Japan but there wasn’t much to be found. I’m not so knowledgeable about the period in general, except that I know the war caused suffering everywhere in the country (well, most everywhere in the world). People starved, toiled long hours, and knew that if they sent their fathers, brothers, and cousins off to war they would never see them again. And after the war the only thing to do was to rebuild the country. Similar to the States, it seems the only knitting done was knitting items for soldiers.

I found a blog entry on a small Japanese blog called “Knitting History Research Club (Amimono Rekishi Kenkyuubu) that I’ll translate some excerpts from. Please visit the blog here, as it has a lot of interesting pictures! Translations are by me, with some editing done for clarity.

So, I’d like you to imagine for just a bit:
Look at the marine style knit worn by Kuwano Michiko [a famous actress of the time] at the top of the article. That pattern was released in 1938.

The war with China was already  a quagmire. The National Mobilization Law had gone into effect, with restrictions on various goods starting to go into effect. But as long as there were magazines like this, times were still relatively good.

So pretend that an 18-year-old young woman had seen this picture.

18-year-olds of that time were perhaps more mature than the ones of today, but regardless she was still young. It was the second year of the Sino-Japanese War, so maybe her brothers had been sent off to war. But even so, she still could have admired this beautiful sweater. She was still able to contact the magazine to buy the yarn and knit the sweater. (You could do that at the time. You can still do that with Keito Dama [Vogue Knitting in Japan], but at the time the magazine companies and yarn companies were working together)

She still could have worn that sweater and walked confidently through town.

By the time that woman turned 25, the war had been lost. The only clothes she had were old work pants and a protective hood.

From 18 to 25. These are the years when most graduate high school, go off to college, and start their careers. The time when a young woman most wants to be fashionable. But for this woman, this was no time for being fashionable. This was like hurtling off a steep cliff. Fashionable? Her life had grown ever more dangerous…

And even if she wanted to knit sweaters, she would no longer be able to purchase wool by about 1941-42. Synthetic nylon yarn was available, but it was inflexible and broke easily. It was a yarn you almost couldn’t use. By the end of the war, even that yarn was unavailable.

The marine sweater that she knit would have been unraveled quite a while before that, to be used for other necessary goods (perhaps for socks for soldiers, or for children’s underwear). Or perhaps it would have been exchanged with farmers for rice or potatoes.

Pretty powerful stuff. These are things that we only rarely think about these days. For me, living in Japan, it’s been so interesting to learn about the war from a normal Japanese person’s perspective. In many respects, they were no different from the people at home in America. In some ways, they had it far worse.

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