Fukusa (gift cover)
Silk, gilt thread
Dyed, embroidered, couching
Fukusa are placed over gifts as part of the presentation process. Often the design on the fukusa bears a relationship to the nature of the gift. Since this fukusa depicts the seven treasures, it may have been meant to cover a wedding gift, for example. This is a small fukusa – only 11″ x 12″, so it is intriguing to think what gift or gifts it might have covered.
The rich deep purple appears to be hon murasaki, a dye derived from the gromwell root that was much loved, but difficult to process, expensive, and fugitive. Much information about this fukusa remains unknown, including whether it was originally a fukusa, or is a skillfully recycled fragment from a very luxurious gown.
However, the reverse of the fukusa (below), likely dyed with what is now very faded and discolored safflower, contains some important information.
This inscription indicates that it was donated to a temple following the owner’s death. Below, on the first line to the right, is the date of the inscription: seventh year of Kansei (an era within the Edo period), the seventh lunar month, which places the donation at around 1796. As noted in a previous posting, this is the latest possible date of the fukusa. If the fukusa was among the owner’s possessions since childhood, or part of an inheritance, it could be substantially older.
The next portion (below) is written in fragments of sentences [right to left]:
This temple’s twentieth
Genchi-in Hakudou (priestess’s name)
Acceptance of the offering
On the left side of the fukusa, the inscription continues:
This temple’s twenty-fifth (priest)
Reishin Nikkai (possibly Reishin Gekkai)
A possible interpretation is that in commemoration of the death of Genchi-in Hakudou, the twentieth priestess, twenty of her disciples donated the fukusa to the temple (or were present at the donation), and the twenty-fifth priest (or priestess) took charge of formally accepting the donation.
The stitches in the hat of invisibility are sewn in such a way as to hint at the texture and three dimensionality of the hat. Simple satin stitch could have been used to fill in the space, but some of the stitchwork is arranged to emphasize the hat’s conical shape.
The soft, loose, untwisted threads seen here lost popularity in the later Edo period.
The cloves, though very small, are minutely detailed.
For the reading of the inscription, Daily Japanese Textile was very fortunate to have the invaluable assistance of a person who wishes to remain anonymous.