Hikeshi Hanten (Fireman’s jacket, interior)
Cotton
Sashiko stitching, paste resist, stenciling, hand painting

Formerly, the fireman’s job was not primarily to save a house from burning but rather to prevent the fire from spreading to other houses, which often meant tearing down the house on fire. The fireman’s jacket, made of layers of highly absorbent cotton stitched together, was saturated with water during the blaze, to help protect the wearer as he fought the heat and flames.

While the outside of a fireman’s jacket declared his group affiliation, and perhaps his rank, the interiors of many firemen’s jackets (which can be reversible) were elaborately decorated with supernatural themes, such as legendary heroes, dragons, goblins, and even giant spiders – figures sometimes copied from popular woodblock prints of the day.  Foxes too were believed to have supernatural abilities, including the ability to take the form of a beautiful woman. The theme of the skull in the tall grass, called nozarashi (exposed in a field), popular in Japanese stories and imagery, was associated with ghosts.  The colors here are very muted, perhaps to suggest a very misty night, when a nighttime traveler might be unsure if he really sees what he thinks he sees.  The ghostly pale color of the fox with the human bone in its mouth was undoubtedly a deliberate choice on the part of the artist.

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