Fireman’s happi (jacket)
Cotton (homespun)
Stenciled; paste resist

The firefighters of old Edo were divided into several groups and subgroups (based on geographical location), and wore clothes that clearly identified which group and subgroup they belonged to. Most subgroups were named after a letter of the Japanese syllabary. A few were given dazzling numbers, such as the 100 Group, or the Ten Thousand Group. This happi identifies the wearer as a member of the lettered subgroup – in this case, the Fu Kumi.

Above is the front of the happi, which identifies the Fu Kumi as part of Group 6, one of the ten larger groups. The larger groups were composed of anywhere from five to nine subgroups. The wavy lines at the waist are the shape of roof tiles. These are strictly designs, and do not denote rank. Rank was denoted by red stripes across the shoulders.

Above, the Fu crest; below, a close-up of the number 6.

The Japanese have long had a very thorough record-keeping system, and there were even books about the firefighters. Below are pages copied from an old book that identified the designs of the firefighters’ hanten (these were heavier multilayer jackets with sashiko stitching), their matoi (standards) and the areas in which they worked. The crest on the second jacket from the right is almost identical to the jacket above, but has slight differences and actually belongs to the Yo Kumi, part of Group 1. Some readers will recognize the first jacket on the left, which was shown on Daily Japanese Textile on August 28.  Click here for another look at that jacket, from the Ni Kumi.

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