Hikoboshi juban, painting IMG_4580

Man’s summer juban (unlined)
Shijira-ori (?); hand painted (sumi and bengara?)

This 20th century man’s summer juban appears to be decorated with a painting of Hikoboshi. According to the legend, which originated in China and was transmitted to Japan, Hikoboshi (the star Altair), a poor ox herder, married Orihime (the star Vega), the daughter of the king of the heavens. Although they were very happy together, after they married they neglected their duties. This angered her father, who separated them by the Milky Way. Since then, they only meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. In Japan, this is an important festival day known as Tanabata, now celebrated on July 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The singular subject matter hints at the story of the separated lovers, but without any clear indication of Orihime, we can only conjecture.

Hikoboshi juban, back IMG_4578

The artist has brought great sensitivity to his subject. The ox herder and his ox seem content, if isolated. Hikoboshi is depicted as very simply dressed and disheveled, a reference to legendary times. There is a masterful use of black and gray shading, while rich brown (bengara?) is used in the ox’s restraints and pale pink in Hikoboshi’s face. Note the very fine hairs at the ox’s muzzle, further indication of the artist’s highly trained hand and eye.

The front of the juban is only lightly decorated, with a scythe and a basket. There are many variations to the Tanabata story, and these may refer to one such variation.
Hikoboshi juban, front Daily Japanese Textile IMG_4587

The weave on this juban is very interesting, and seems consistent with a custom order. The center of the juban is woven with white thread, to provide a canvas for the painting; the top and bottom are shot through at intervals with wefts in varying shades of gray. This differentiation is uncommon in juban, but has a strong precedent in noshime kosode, the formal kimono worn by samurai under kamishimo. This juban also has a lot of surface puckering. Like seersucker, the puckering is welcome during the summer months: the bubble-like surface allows air circulation as it prevents much of the fabric from adhering to the body. A close look at the fibers shows that some of the wefts are highly twisted, and bulky, while other weft threads are not twisted at all. The warp threads are all untwisted, and lie flat. (Double click on the photo below for greater detail.)

Hikoboshi fiber detail  Daily Japanese Textile

For a view of shijira ori in an Edo period noshime kosode, see this beautifully photographed example from Japanese Antique & Textile saiyuu 2.

Readers with additional information on this subject are invited to write in.