Paper, persimmon tannin

This stencil contains an odd amalgam of traditional motifs: in the center are very detailed asanoha (hemp leaf) designs; to the left and right of the central asanoha design are san-kuzushi-jima and ni-kuzushi-jima (triple disconnected stripes and double disconnected stripes). Above the double stripes, the long dashes are either tokusa (scouring rushes) or renga (bricks). All of these motifs are used in Hakone yosegi zaiku, a kind of marquetry.

Mostly around the perimeters are partial views of genjiko, the shorthand lines used in the incense guessing game of court nobles during the Heian period. In contrast to the delicate geometric designs, the genjiko symbols are cut to look as though they have been roughly carved into wood. Finally, the four connected circles are actually a highly stylized fukura zusume, or puffy sparrow. A closer look reveals tiny holes punched out for eyes, and small articulated claws.

Click here for some basic information on yosegi zaiku, and click here for a YouTube video demonstrating the production of delicate strips of yosegi zaiku. For additional information on genjiko, click here.

Momohiki (trousers)
Cotton (homespun)
Stenciled paste resist, sashiko stitching

These sashiko stitched momohiki were part of a fireman’s uniform. Extra panels are inserted in the back of the legs to keep the trousers tight, and take the legs’ countours into account.

In the close-up below, there are two types of sashiko stitching: at the torso, the intersecting diagonal lines that form large diamond shapes, and, at the legs, the very dense horizontal stitchwork. Where the stitchwork is less dense, it becomes apparent that the stenciled design is not a set of abstract lines, but a highly stylized rendition of the words 大一, or Great First, possibly short for Great First Fire Department, followed by the name of the town. Where the stitchwork is denser, the design becomes noticeably compressed.

The unstenciled interior is solid indigo.

A close-up of the fibers and stitchwork.

Man’s juban
Several shibori techniques

Below, two small knots that were overlooked, or could not removed, following the shibori process.

Festival horse trapping (?)
Cotton (homespun)
Tsutsugaki – stenciled and free hand paste resist, dyes and pigments

This is probably a festival horse trapping. Most likely it was originally one of a matching pair, and the two would have adorned a horse’s left and right side. The three loops at the top, which appear to be later replacements, would have had a cord running through them. The character most likely reads “Yoshi”, the first half of a popular surname, so this was a form of advertising. The large ‘roof’ over the character is a design conceit often used in such pieces, and not part of the character. The red pigment so popular in tsutsugaki is most likely ground cinnabar. The flowers are the auspicious chysanthemum.

Above is the reverse, showing the backing. It has been heavily repaired, and in fact is a recycled remnant of another tsutsugaki piece. This remnant also features a name with a ‘roof’ design over it.

Girl’s kimono
Silk, cotton (lining)
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

The bobbin motif enjoyed great popularity as a design theme in pre-war kimonos. In this child’s kimono, bobbins are paired with clouds, an unusual combination, except when one considers that the bobbin structure itself is drawn to look like a diving airplane. Planes and clouds were also a popular pre-war theme.

Excess material is basted down at the shoulders and waist, so when the young wearer grew taller, the basting stitches could be taken out, and the kimono could continue to be worn at a length and width appropriate to her size.

Man’s juban
Ramie (homespun); silk (collar)
Hand painted with sumi

The waterfall, gathered kindling and gourd on this hand painted juban evoke the legend of Yoro no Taki (the waterfall at Yoro), in which a young man sets out to find sake as a treat for his father, but is about to come back empty handed. The gods take pity on him, and when he fills his gourd with water from the waterfall, the water is transformed into sake. This juban would have been a special order, and dates back to the Meiji period. The workmanship is exacting. It looks as though the artist was accustomed to working on hanging scrolls, and wielded his brush to take maximum advantage of the play of light and dark ink. The painting is coordinated over all of the panels of the juban, and so would have taken some time to plan so the panels could form the intended ‘seamless’ panorama.

This juban looks as though it was well loved by its owner, and probably worn for many seasons. The removable silk collar is comparatively newer than the juban. Nearly invisible inside both sleeve openings are small reinforcing panels to prevent wear at the wrists.

Below, a small bird in flight from the right front chest of the juban. The artist has painted the bird at an unusual angle, veering away from the viewer.

Silk; cotton lining
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

This kimono has a Bauhaus-like sensibility.

In order to clean a kimono, it had to be unsewn, then cleaned, then sewn back together. Below is the cleaner’s tag, which enabled the kimono to go back to its owner – in this case, someone named Hasegawa. It is attached with large loose stitches which are easy to remove. Typically, when kimono were cleaned, they were returned to the owner with large white basting stitches at the perimeter as a sign that they had been cleaned. These were then removed by the owner before wearing. There are no such stitches on this kimono, so it may have been worn again following its cleaning, even though the tag is still in place. The tag is sewn into the bottom inside of the right lapel, and would have been unseen by all but the wearer as she dressed.

The designer placed rectangles of contrasting colors in yellow grids on a white background. The grids are interesting because although the grid pattern is the natural result of the warp and weft structure, the dye that makes grid lines has been deliberately applied somewhat unevenly, almost as if to oppose the rigid balance imposed by weaving.

Futon cover (?), recovered from maiwai (fisherman’s coat)
Stenciled, paste resist, dyes and pigments

The design elements of this futon cover indicate that it was initially intended as a maiwai, a celebratory fisherman’s coat.  (See Daily Japanese Textile January 2, 2014 for a maiwai in its original form.)  The two central panels show the widely separated left and right side of a large crest, embellished with a characteristic flying crane.  There are no cuts by the crests where the collar would have been attached, so it appears as though the materials may never actually have been made into a maiwai.

The crest above reads “Nakamura Gyogyobu”, or Nakamura Fishing Group. The crest below reads “Okane Gyogyobu”, or Okane Fishing Group. Generally, a standardized maiwai only had one name on it, so this futon cover (?) may combine panels from more than one maiwai.  The left and right side of the crane line up very well.  Could this indicate a high rate of standardization in the maiwai industry, or did the Nakamura and Okane groups work together?

The yellowtail (buri) indicates that this group specialized in yellowtail fishing. Yellowtail fishing was hazardous, and yellowtail fisherman commanded a certain amount of respect.

The knotted cord threaded in the material by the bird’s tail looks typical of knots that are used to bind two layers of fabric together, with a layer of batting in between. The knot and the four panels seem to indicate that this might have served as a futon cover.

The reverse side:

A fiber close-up.

Fireman’s mittens
Cotton (homespun)
Sashiko stitching, dyes and pigments

To protect their hands, firemen wore thick gloves made of the same materials as their jackets: multiple layers of cotton sewn together with sashiko stitching.

These show a fair amount of wear. Some of the material has worn away where the mittens would have encountered the most friction from use, and color has faded where they were repeatedly folded by the hand joints.

The designs on the two gloves are not identical, suggesting that they may have been repurposed, possibly from a damaged jacket.

Rayon (?); metallic thread
Stenciled warps and wefts; hand tie-dyed wefts


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