fireman's coat - Kurama Tengu and Ushiwakamaru - back - Daily Japanese Textile IMG_1067

Reversible fireman’s coat
Sashiko, tutsugaki paste resist, dyes, pigments

This coat has seen a lot of wear, but its original glory still shows through. A coat as elaborate as this one would not have been worn during a fire, but afterwards, perhaps in a procession or other celebratory event. Firemen had a roguish reputation, and coats like these, depicting tales of heroism and the supernatural, emphasized their strength and courage.

Often, coats have a somber exterior and a stunning interior, but this coat depicts two different tales of legendary Japanese heroes – one on each side. The side seen here depicts the story of Kurama Tengu, king of the Tengu, who teaches Ushiwakamaru the art of fighting. For the full story, click here. On the back of the coat, above, we see Kurama Tengu in the foreground, kabuki-like in his grand posturing, and Ushiwakamaru in the background to the right, testing his mettle by matching wits with a demon in the background on the left.

fireman's coat - Kurama Tengu and Ushiwakamaru - front - Daily Japanese Textile IMG_1080

Many of the designs seen in firemen’s coats can be matched up with popular ukiyo-e and books of the day, and many favored themes, such as this one, are repeated. In Sashiko Hanten Fireman’s Coat: The Kuwata Collection, there are two coats depicting Kurama Tengu and Ushiwakamaru with a demon in the background. The details change, but all three bear great similarities, and the story is immediately recognizable. Above, we see that Kurama Tengu’s billowing robe extends regally to both sides of the front of the coat, and only when we turn the coat to the other side do we see that it is a dark night lit by the crescent moon.

fireman's coat - Kurama Tengu close-up - Daily Japanese Textile IMG_1074

When the coat is reversed, another story of legendary bravery is revealed. This is the story of Susanoo no Mikoto, seen earlier here in a cartoon for a Boys’ Day banner. Over his shoulder, in a blinding light, we see one of the eight heads of the dragon Yamata no Orochi.

fireman's coat reverse, back - Susanoo no Mikoto - Daily Japanese Textile IMG_1087

The front of the coat depicts the other heads (difficult to make out) all emanating like rays from the collar, which may have made it look as though the fireman was the eighth head – proof, if any were needed, of the fireman’s prowess.

fireman's coat reverse, front - Susanoo no Mikoto Daily Japanese Textile IMG_1130