Lacquer

Shrine Sale Stories…Treasures From My Trip To Tokyo

My long weekend in Tokyo was simply sublime. Days of friends and food and lots of shopping were just the restorative I needed. The weather didn’t cooperate, but it didn’t really matter. Kawagoe was a bit thin on the ground because of the threat of rain and unfortunately the next two days delivered the promised precipitation, although it didn’t keep us from the markets. It did however keep me from taking lots of photos, so most of the finds recorded are from the first day out. I also broke my own rule of “buy it when you see it” a few times, mulling over the weight and difficulty of transport, which meant I lost out on a few things, although as usual, there is a funny story attached to one of them.

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There were some things that didn’t get away – like these swirling blue and white dishes – and others that did – like these kutani lidded teacups – so beautifully painted they looked like brocade.

kutani lidded teacups

This very fine takamakura, complete with original buckwheat filled pillow went home with a friend.

takamakura

A search for a tansu was successful, yielding this lacquer beauty for a fraction of its retail price. Tansu at shrine sales are often in poor condition which is why they are a bargain, but this dealer had lovingly restored this piece.

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Brought home and placed in the entry it will be a workhorse, holding gloves and scarves and general entry clutter.

lacquer tansu

Speaking of tansu in poor condition, I also popped in to the The National Art Center to view the Joint Graduation Exhibition of Art Universities. Not sure what the meaning of this installation of destroyed tansu by Shunsuke Nouchi is meant to represent, but I couldn’t resist including it. Student exhibits in Japan, as elsewhere, can be really fun, ranging from discoveries of major talent to down right awful. I can’t help but feel bad for these chests!

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Another friend and client scored really big, bringing home all kinds of treasures. The giant wooden gears – very Vincente Wolf - will be hung as a focal point on a bare wall. We got very lucky, finding three with just the right amount of variety in size, shape, color and detail. A vintage onbuhimo, better known as a baby carrier, has lovely indigo cloth woven into its straps. And a large lacquer carrying chest, billed as Edo period by its dealer, but not, is extremely decorative with its etched brass hardware.

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As for my haul, I had to keep reminding myself that I had to carry anything and everything I bought home. So I left behind an entire basket of small fishing floats and even some charming porcelain. I had to have the gray and white bowls – which were likely the more expected blue originally but now faded – because I knew they would look great with the dining table and they are that perfect not too big, not too small size. I picked up a few wooden pieces, a tray and some itomaki, including this unusual long one. A small hibachi with the great geometric asa-no-ha or hemp pattern was also a keeper. But as always, my eye and my wallet are equally lured by non-Japanese discoveries and I fell in love with these bright Turkish glasses and a cut glass jam pot. I’ve been having a bit of a glass fetish lately – wait, aren’t I always having some kind of glass fetish?

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The promised funny story is about the glasses, made for serving arabic tea, but I can imagine them holding dessert or even wine. I saw five of them, 3 pink and 2 purple, on a table at one of my favorite dealers at Kawagoe and passed them only because I decided there weren’t really enough to be useful and their fragility made them hard to transport. My mind kept returning to them over and over (those silver mounts!) as I wandered so I went back only to discover they were gone – massive bummer!

arabic turkish tea glasses

Imagine my surprise when later that evening I walked into the kitchen of the dear friend I was staying with for the week. Long my partner in crime and shrine sales, SHE had bought the glasses and they were now sitting on her kitchen counter. It was one of those moments of fierce purchase jealousy, but the truth was if I couldn’t have them, better she did than some stranger. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself while contemplating going to the mat for them.

Turkish glasses

The surprise continued when we saw the same dealer the next day and once again he had 5 of the glasses out on his table. It was a confusing moment of déjà vu, but we at least had the good sense to ask if he had more and it ended up he had an entire box! So all’s well that ends well and one day we have to have a massive party together and use them all!

Related Posts:
Shrine Sale Stories…Recent Treasures
Shrine Sale Scorcher…Vintage Mirrors on an Extremely Hot Day
Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics
Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk
Shrine Sale Stories…My French Moderne Bar Cart

Takamakura…A Geisha’s Hard Night Sleep

“…a young apprentice geisha must learn a new way of sleeping after her hair is styled for the first time. She doesn’t use an ordinary pillow any longer, but a taka-makura-which I’ve mentioned before. It’s not so much a pillow as a cradle for the base of the neck. Most are padded with a bag of wheat chaff, but still they’re not much better than putting your neck on a stone.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

It doesn’t sound to me like a very comfortable way to pass the night, but sleeping on a takamakura (tall pillow) was instrumental in preserving the elaborate coiffures worn by geisha.

geisha taking nap on pillow

These days, they make wonderful decorative collectibles, like this one tucked against the books in the side table of a room previously featured in my Provenance column on kasuri over at Cloth & Kind.

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The base is made of lacquered wood that is gently curved, to allow for some rocking movement while in use. A silk or cotton-covered pillow, filled with buckwheat hulls or chaff, crowns it and provides some limited comfort. Dark or orangey-red lacquer is most common and sometimes the pillows are made from interesting textiles, like in this case, covered with asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) pattern. And if you are thinking Kelly Wearstler’s Katana, now you know where she got her inspiration!

takamakura

A similar takamakura rests on the top shelf of a very large collection in a Westchester, NY bedroom. As you can see, most of the geisha pillows are either red or black and the finer ones have detailing in the lacquer. This collection also boasts a few wooden examples as well as some blue & white porcelain ones.

LJ geisha pillows

While many of the lacquer and cloth takamakura date from the 19th century, most of the porcelain ones commonly found are early to mid 20th century. The porcelain ones seem even less comfortable to me, although some are designed with special comfort features, like these two. The top one has small porcelain squares strung together almost like a hammock that allow for movement. The one with the kanji marking on top can accommodate hot water and/or medicines in its hollow cavity and the gaps in the top of the pillow let the steam or aroma rise. I’ve actually seen takamakura with pharmacy labels or stamps.

blue white porcelain geisha pillow

Regardless of their functionality, they are supremely decorative and look great mixed with books in shelves or on their own…

blue white porcelain pillow display

…or combined with other porcelain pieces like these jubako here in a Tokyo entryway…

cate geisha pillows

…or here in a cubbyhole in a girl’s bedroom in San Francisco.

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She should be happy they rest on a shelf and that she does not rest on one of them!

N.B. You’ll notice repeats in these photos, but it is not a styling trick. All of these takamakura belong to different people, it’s just that many models were produced on a large-scale. Hand painted ones tend to be older and more individual than the inban, or transferware, versions.

Vintage geisha photo, most probably by T. Enami via Geisha Moments Facebook page.  Thanks to everyone else who provided photos for this post.

Object Obsession…Jubako Boxes

Seto jubako

An absolute favorite of mine, porcelain jubako, stacked tiered food boxes, are harder to come across than more standard porcelain shapes such as plates and bowls. That being true, it hasn’t kept me from accumulating quite a few and helping others do the same. I always refer to them as jubako, but it may be that the porcelain ones should be called danju, while the lacquer ones are officially jubako. Shrine sale dealers call them jubako, so for now I will use the terms interchangeably. Personally I’ve never put food in mine. Instead I like to use them for trinkets on night stands, spices in the kitchen and anywhere you need to stash some small valuables.

In my entryway they hold extra keys to the house and car, buttons and hooks that have fallen off jackets and other odds and ends. Mine are unusual in that they are square, much less common than round ones, and the larger one has lovely scrolled feet. The bright cobalt and densely pigmented karakusa (scrolling arabesque pattern) are typical of Seto porcelain, and although purchased at very different times, seem to have been painted by the same artist.  I have enough Seto ware these days that I can see the hand of distinct artists on certain pieces. As for the cloth dolls on the right, they have their own extraordinary tale to tell and will be featured in an upcoming post for Hinamatsuri or Girls Day.

Seto jubako

Over the years I have helped to put together numerous collections.  It seems once bitten by the jubako bug that one is never enough. They look wonderful grouped together or mixed in with other porcelain. It’s always important to vary shapes and heights as well as the density of pigment and painted motif. This collection of five hand painted Imari jubako has a lovely balance of stylized and naturalistic motifs.

Imari jubako

This collection is used in the bathroom to hold cotton balls, Q-tips, make-up, make-up brushes and jewelry. Again note the variety of height, shape and painting style. The three outer cases are inban, Japanese transferware, while the two center ones are painted in a naturalistic style.

jubako

This trio represents three very different styles and eras and you can see those differences reflected clearly in the various shades of blue pigment.

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Here jubako are mixed with two geisha pillows, the porcelain neck rests used for preserving elaborate coiffures when lying down. I think there will have to be a post on those in the near future too.

jubako and geisha pillow

Blue and white jubako aren’t the only porcelain types out there.  I have a weakness for the prettily painted Kutani ones. This style of Kutani ware isn’t the densely pigmented and almost brocaded paint commonly associated with the best pieces from that region. (It occurs to me that I have never properly written about Kutani porcelain, so that will be added to my check list for spring.) Instead, they have a soft painterly naturalistic style.  The little sake cup warmer in the center makes a great votive candle holder.

kutani jubako

For all the thousands of ginger jars we see each month in the design press, I have almost never seen jubako featured, other than this one in John Anderson’s New York home.

jubako John Anderson

But recently I spied a lacquer one in this Vincente Wolf designed apartment on the January cover of AD – you can just see it on the table in the center of the room. While I am drawn to the porcelain jubako, the most common material they are made of is lacquer and examples of antique and new ones can be found everywhere.

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They are used for traditional osechi ryori (New Year’s food) which is served room temperature in the layered lacquered boxes. For more details on the food in this photo check out Savory Japan.

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The contents and the containers are things of beauty both!

More Selective Perception or Just Coincidence? Ami Pattern Everywhere at Kawagoe Shrine Sale

I know I have written about selective perception here before, but I had a major case of it just a few days ago at the Kawagoe shrine sale. In 8+ years here in Tokyo I have only see a few handfuls of ami or fish pattern pieces that I wrote about the other day, but somehow everywhere I turned last Wednesday I came across another one.  These small inban (Japanese transferware) dishes had an intricate and very finely patterned net, complete with cute fish swimming around.

ami fish net inban

This lacquer tray had cranes flying by, probably looking for fish to eat.

lacquer cranes fish net ami

And I found a few small dishes like this one with beautiful hand painted nets.

small fish net ami dish

Coincidence? Fate? Luck? Or just selective perception?

Related Post:
Caught in a Net…Ami Pattern on Porcelain and More
Selective Perception…Maekake at the Heiwajima Antiques Fair and Kawagoe Shrine Sale

Caught in a Net…Ami Pattern on Porcelain and More

One of my favorite “so ancient and simple that it’s modern” Japanese motifs is ami or fish net pattern. I’ve been tracking blue and white porcelain pieces here at shrine sales and antique shops for years, like this beautiful sake cup washer and hire (like a small hibachi from a smoking set). The sake cup washer has a very linear version of the pattern, while the hire looks almost Middle Eastern in its curvilinear painting, reminding me of these floor tiles! The pattern is common, but rare at the same time, so I always notice it when I see a piece. Not an unexpected motif if you think about how much life in Japan revolves around fish!

Unlike the rounded pieces above, these rectangular dishes show the star-like pattern at the center of the nets and the larger of the dishes even has an open and loosely linked rendition, versus the tighter nets.

Here on this small dish the net is softly and irregularly painted.

Imagine my surprise when ami cropped up in a slightly different form at a recent ladies luncheon with the renowned Japanese food expert Elizabeth Andoh that focused on the art of mixing dishes and plating food.  Out came a rustic but elegant Mashiko pottery plate in the fish net pattern in a glossy copper and verdigris. She called the pattern ajiro, but I think that is actually more of a traditional herringbone style basket weave and that this too is ami.

Just a week or so later, I finally got to visit the Mashiko pottery festival myself, which I haven’t been to in years! I came across a few examples of that same style, perhaps even the same potter to my eye, including this huge spectacular vessel. From my lack of posts lately you can tell life has got me by the ankle and isn’t letting go, but I hope to write more about my experience there soon.

Shortly after that I came across this formal lacquer ware version from my friend Mizue Sasa’s shop Okura Oriental Art - haute couture fish net!

Fish net pattern can be found on much more than just dishes, whether stylized in sashiko embroidery as well as realistically patterned directly in textiles and art. There are a few very famous ukiyo-e featuring actual nets, but I quite like this one by Utagawa Yoshiiku, called  “A Parody of Goldfish with Actor’s Expressions.” It seems the public in the day would have recognized these fish faces for whom they were meant to represent. I quite like that the title is written against a background of fish net.

While I can do without the silly faces on those fish, all this talk (writing?) of fish and fish nets has got me thinking about another project I am working on, the 2013 ASIJ Gala Quilt. Using a background of vintage blue kasuri (the Japanese version of ikat) pieced in a neat but kinda boro style, we are planning on appliqueing a grouping of koi.

The koi will be varying shades of orange and white silk shibori (tie-dye). Here’s a first glimpse of a mock-up to whet your appetite.

We had been talking about some water pattern quilting but now I am thinking that perhaps we want to use the fish net motif, picked out in white quilting thread.  Just loving this idea! What say you Julie Fukuda and Kendra Morgenstern?

Related Posts:
After the Earthquake…Help Rebuild the Kilns at Mashiko
Guest Post…Visiting the Mashiko Pottery Festival
The ASIJ Quilt…Summer Breezes: Furin in the Rock Garden
Coming Full Circle…A History of the ASIJ Gala Quilt

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