1942 - 1945 


This magnificent kain panjang pagi-sore is a wonderful example of the style, batik Djawa Hokokai, produced in Pekalongan especially by Chinese entrepreneurs but also by Indo-European and Indo-Arab business people who were known for the finesse of their work.   The style emerged in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients during the 1942-1945 occupation of Java.  The filler motifs on the background are extremely complex, delicate and very crowded - tanahan Semarangan style.  The work is executed in a remarkable range of colours including shades of orange, pink, mauve, violet, green, turquoise, red and yellow, colours in favour with the Japanese.

During the Japanese occupation of Java (1942-1945) a short-lived although a distinctively new style of cloth, batik Djawa Hokokai, emerged, in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients.  This new style emerged out of a form of batik already being produced in Pekalongan.  Alongside Javanese-style background patterns, like the kawonand parang motifs, and Chinese flowers one would discover cherry blossom and chrysanthemum.  These extremely beautiful and ornate cloths were made during very difficult economic times.  The most distinctive quality of this new style of coastal batik was its utilization of exuberant colours in daring combinations like pink and green.  The richness in the colours was achieved by repeated immersion in the various dye baths which also required the wax to be repeatedly removed (plorodan) and then reapplied.

According to Eiko Adnan Kusuma, a batik collector, the technique that was used resembled yuzen, a dyeing technique popular in Japan since 1700.  The result: clear bright colours, motifs emerging in true colours, and a three-dimensional effect that was obtained through effective colour play.  But whereas the three-dimensional effect in yuzen was obtained by the artisan's dexterity in using the brush, in batik Djawa Hokokai it was achieved by the batikker's meticulousness in applying the wax and by adding the finest of fillings (isen-isen).  [1]


As cotton cloth suitable for batik making particularly very fine batik tulis, was in short supply during the war, the composition of batik Djawa Hokokai skirts feature extremely dense and detailed patternsusually filling two diagonal fields.  Each half carried a different pattern that was arranged in the opposite direction to the other, enabling the cloth to be worn with either end exposed, providing the appearance that the wearer owned two different cloths.  This composition is known as pagi-sore (morning and late afternoon).  This was not a new concept having been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century but it was given prominence in batik Djawa Hokokai.  


Detail (a)
Long Djawa Hokokai cloth made for the Japanese market (detail)
Pekalongan, ca. 1942-1945
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
110.0 x 248.0 cm
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
Photo: Mick Richards

Before discussing this beautiful Djawa Hokokai batik in detail, it will be helpful to revisit the utilisation of the intricate isen-isen and tananah motifs as they are key to this style of batik.   Batik from the Pasisir (north coast of Java), was and still is, famous for the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process and for its exquisite use of colours.  Central to the achievement of these qualities is the incorporation of isen-isen and tanahan motifs.  Isen-isen are the tiny motifs used to fill-in within the outlines of the key motifs while the tiny tananah motifs fill-in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background.  It is the isen-isen and tananah motifs that distinguish Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used. In each region the pengobeng (batikkers or waxers), consider their own version of isen-isen and tananah motifs a condition for what is regarded a superior work. 

A full appreciation of this kain panjang is achieved by first referencing the emergence of Batik Belanda in the 1840s, where isen-isen and tananah motifs were employed to enhance the main motif.  This enabled the creation of not just the illusion of a colour change, but also the introduction of actual shades of colour, by intensifying or dispersing the isen-isen dots.  Also the illusion of depth and form is achieved by the use of dots that from a distance, appear like fine lines.  To serve this purpose, filler motifs that were once of uniform size and distribution were now dispersed at random, sometimes in sparse spacing, and others more concentrated, and they varied in size. 

Pak Iwan Tirta wrote, "In my opinion, it is the isen-isen and tanahan motifs which add to the beauty and mystery of Indonesian batiks.  By breaking and dividing space delineated by the lines of the main motif, the isen-isen provide the subtle shading of colours and softening of lines that make true Indonesian batiks a play of light and shade."  [2]

Full cloth (b)
Long Djawa Hokokai cloth made for the Japanese market
Pekalongan, ca. 1942-1945
Skirt cloth kain panjang 
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
110.0 x 248.0 cm
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
Photo: Mick Richards

Rens Heringa writes:  The kain panjang, worn in the more elegant central Javanese style, gained popularity throughout the 20th century.  Its designs, however, changed and became a fusion of the Europeanized florals with the intricate backgrounds and specific colour combinations that were consistent with Peranakan or Indo-Arabian tastes.  The most complex and vibrant examples of these elaborate styles are the cloths designated Djawa Hokokai, an organisation established by the Japanese as a tool for indoctrinating every Indonesian over fourteen years of age; it ultimately became the cradle of the nationalist movement.  [3]    

Full cloth (c)


The cloth illustrated above & below, typical of a Djawa Hokokai batik, is divided diagonally into two parts distinguished, not by colour, but by background motif.  The butterflies flutter above a stylised kawong motif and the lotus blooms float upon a parang motif.  Both motifs had once been restricted to usage only in the Javanese royal courts.  These motifs were designated as larangan (forbidden, restricted to be used only by the central Javanese courts).  The kawong is an extremely old geometric motif.  It is thought to be derived from an abstraction of the halved fruits of the sugar palm.  The parang is a traditional Javanese court motif of slanting bands or stripes filled with stylised daggers.  

  On first sight it is the colours, the bold composition, and the key motifs of the butterflies and lotus blooms that attract attention.
On closer observation your gaze turns in awe to the brilliant canting skills of the batikkers waxing the Djawa Hokokai cloths, as it is extremely fine and very technically elaborate.  The women batikkers employed to execute the patterns were trained in the intricate and precise application of wax, and an extraordinary delicate stippling and dotting technique was used, especially with some of the wonderfully ornate floral designs.  Djawa Hokokai batik's making required highly skilled hands accustomed to drawing extremely intricate background fillings, as with batik Belanda and batik Cina. 

Within a flower or a leaf it is the isen-isen that create the illusion of colour change.  It is the isen-isen that also creates shades of colour by intensifying or dispersing the fine dots.  This use of a myriad of fine dots enhances the impact of each of the key motifs.
These exuberant cloths, masterpieces, always had a wide floral border, terang bulan, and at least a pair of exquisitely drawn butterflies.  Butterflies are now the main motifs unlike prior to the Japanese occupation and djawa hokokai batik, when they were only used to fill empty spaces.  The terang bulan border, as seen in Full cloth (b) above, travels in both directions from the top right corner and is delineated by its deep purple background.  It embraces the lotus blooms floating across the right half of the cloth.  These sumptuous blooms are also repeated in the embellishment of the terang bulan border itself and across other elements of the cloth.  For example, in the green coloured border running across the base on the left half of the cloth (the butterfly half), also seen in Detail (d) below. 

According to Chinese tradition, a pair of butterflies which appear on this cloth represent two lovers of different social status, whose love was opposed by their parents.  Finally, the lovers decided to die together and to be buried in one grave.  Later they turned into butterflies and flew away together, proclaiming their love.  


Detail (d)
A sense of depth is added to all flowers by the use of darker central areas and shaded filler motifs.  The beautifully executed green border at the base of the left half of the cloth, as seen in Detail (d) above, may not only resembles a booh (bow or wave border), but also may represent the grave from which the two lovers emerged as butterflies. 

Detail (e)

Batik Djawa Hokokai cloths have a head, a body, side motifs (motif pinger), and a seret at the outer side of the head.  These batiks combined the characteristics of pagi sore (morning/late afternoon), terang bulan, and tanahan Semarangan (a style of intricately layered backgrounds). 
In Full cloth (b) above, it is the terang bulan border that dominates the short end, at right.  The short end at left, reveals an intriguing head design- a double row of trees.  As in Detail (e) above, the front row of trees are a much deeper green than those behind enabling a visual sense of depth to be achieved. 

On a quick glance at the cloth this double row of trees may initally appear like a tumpul within a kepala, as would've been the case with a kain panjang kepala tumpal, traditional style, Pasisir.       

Detail (f)

The negative spaces occurring between each of the kawong motifs, (series of repeated dark crosses occurring on the diagonal), as in Detail (f) above and Detail (g) below, are amplified by the decision to repeat the use of the dark purple colour which is also the background colour of the terang bulan border.  This colour's repeated use across the surface of the cloth provides a strong sense of visual unity and harmony while at the same time, makes for an extremely bold design.   

Detail (g)

An additional common factor of all batik Djawa Hokokai cloths is that one half of the background is decorated with a garis miring motif.  This group of motifs covers a number of various patterns, the only common factor being that they run diagonally.  As can be seen in Detail (g) above and Detail (h) below, as the background to the lotus blooms to the right of the butterflies, are the best known of the garis miring designs, the parang designs.  Like the kawong motif, the parang motif has long been the preserve of Javanese royalty.   It certainly is a motif that possesses a strong rhythm. 

Interestingly, the dark purple crosses which occur as the negative space between the kawong motif, also run on the diagonal.  This design element reinforces the the diagonal rhythm of the neighbouring parang motif.  This is further enhanced by every third space between the parallel running rows of parang, being of the deep purple shade, like the crosses.  This is the maker ensuring the overall design is visually balanced, unified and harmonious. 

Detail (h)

Batik Djawa Hokokai cloths certainly are an exuberant burst of colour, vitality, full of life's energy, symbolism and they highlight the brilliant skills of the women batikkers/waxers working in or around Pekalongan located on the Pasisir, the north coast of Java, during the period of the Japanese occupation 1942 - 1945.

Thank you and please keep extremely well.


[1]  Ishwara, Helen; Supriyapto Yahya, L.R.; Moeis, Xenia.  BATIK PESISIR: An Indonesian Heritage - Collection of Hartono Sumarsono, Jakarta: KPG (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia), 2012, p94.

[2] Tirta, Iwan.  Batik: A Play of Light and Shades, Jakarta, Gaya Favorit Press, 1996, p106.

[3]  Heringa, Rens. Fabric of Enchanment, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California and Weatherhill, Inc., New York City, New York, 1996, p67.


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