Japanese thread spool

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

Women’s Work…Itomaki With the Silk on Them

“Female workers in cotton spinning mills, silk reeling plants, cotton and silk weaving factories and sheds formed a large and vital part of the Meiji industrial labor force. In 1882, textile plants employed about three-quarters of all factory employees in Japan. In 1909 female workers, mostly in textiles, made up 62 percent of the Japanese factory labor force. This pattern continued for many years — as late as 1930 the majority of Japanese factory workers were women……”

— E. Patricia Tsurumi; Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 18, 1986

thread spool silk reel itomaki

Itomaki, antique Japanese silk reel bobbins or thread spools are a common enough sight around Japan. You can be sure some dealer at a shrine sale will have empty ones lying around in a basket…

itomaki

…or even stacked neatly on a bamboo pole.

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The medium size 4 spoke ones are the easiest to come by, while the more unusual large and small sizes less so. Occasionally you can find a big 6 spoke spool, like the one here, or even a folding one, like this one below.

collapsible itomaki

Silk production was a widespread cottage industry in Japan throughout the Edo period and many traditional Japanese farmhouses were designed with special attic rooms for raising and harvesting silkworms. With the advent of the Meiji-era, silk production became industrialized, with women being the main workers. Factory conditions in Japan were awful, much like those during the Industrial Revolution in the West. Girls were forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions in factories and dormitories surrounded by fences. Photographs inside the heavily fenced workplaces were hard to come by, but this c.1915-23 silver print photograph by T. Enami shows the thread being drawn from the cocoons and spun.

SILK FACTORY GIRLS DRAWING THREAD FROM COCOONS in OLD JAPAN

Other Enami photos from the same period show independent cottage workers spinning their silk.

REELING SILK FROM THE RAW COCOON

I love this one of a little girl working outside.

the little silk winder

What is unusual nowadays is to find them with vintage kimono silks still on them, like I did recently.  I found a large grouping of medium size reels (and one small one) with gorgeous peacock colors in great condition.

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The silken threads are luminescent and the unusual color combinations so typically Japanese.

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I wasn’t the only one to get some – a good friend took a few too. They are great at pulling colors out of artwork and textiles elsewhere in the room. Both of us have placed ours on altar tables, although I am not sure I have room to keep them there.

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Empty itomaki make fantastic stands for porcelain or plants…

Boston fern and Ballard Designs bench

…or even Japanese fishing floats. This one helps to display the lovely pontil and mark on this float.

glass float on itomaki

See why I said it is all too crowded?

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Readers, I’d love to see how you use your itomaki. Please post photos on my Facebook page!

These and more great Meiji period photographs of Japan by T. Enami can be found on Okinawa Soba’s Flickr photostream.

Related Posts:
Finding the Thread…Between Boston Ferns and Japanese Spools
Woven Wall Art…Japanese Silk Worm Trays, Winnowers and American Tobacco Baskets
En Masse…Iron Teapots, Vincente Wolf and the Art of Grouped Displays

Finding the Thread…Between Boston Ferns and Japanese Spools

Can one plant make a room? I think so…

No Victorian house is compete with out a Nephrolepis exalta, better known as the Boston fern. One of the most popular houseplants of that era, they seem to be making a comeback these days and perhaps never lost their popularity as a hanging basket on covered porches. Adding one to my home has been a priority from the very beginning, but what I needed was some kind of plant stand to give it a visual lift.

Now I have shown photos of vintage itomaki (Japanese thread spools) on this blog before.

And if you find it hard to imagine how one was used, here is an actual example of a thread spool on its winder.

But it wasn’t until I stumbled across this big six spoke spool just before leaving Tokyo for the summer that I had the epiphany of using it for my still to be purchased Boston fern. I also bought a smaller one to use as a counterpoint accent, perhaps without any plant on it all, like in the very top photo.

Both had interesting burned in markings that I haven’t had time to investigate. Unfortunately, they don’t show with a plant on top.

For me, I think my fern obsession started with this photo of Chessy Rayner‘s Southampton beach house. Living for over 20 years in my tear sheets, for me it has always represented the perfect summer house. The casual choice and arrangement of furniture and objects is everything a beach house should be. Over the years, I can remember so many bad “Before & After” spreads, particularly in Architectural Digest, where they would take a simple beach house and throw away all the wicker and bring in contemporary furniture.

But it was the image of a single Boston fern that I carried most strongly in my memory  – not the furniture – and so I am actually surprised to see that there are a few other plants, such as the pair of Hibiscus standards in the room.

A more recent photo with a similar plant vibe, Joanna Madden’s Point Pleasant beach house would fall flat without its single Boston fern adding a bit of color to her carefully curated all white room. Only about 20 minutes south of here, her home shop Summerhouse nestles in among all the Point Pleasant antique stores I keep writing about.

So I have added my fern and now I needed an entry bench. Remember this Alexandra Angle bench from here? It has been my main inspiration. And an orchid, not a fern, adds the needed touch of green.

I am trying to content myself with an inexpensive version of the above – a Dorchester Bench from Ballard Designs. I haven’t yet made a cushion for it in my lovely Kemerton Check from Cowtan & Tout, but you can get the general idea. I am loving the vertical accent the coat rack adds to the room, but it is the Boston fern that makes the vignette.

But at the same time, I think I might want a fully upholstered settee in that wonderful fabric. Obviously this entry hall is much more spacious, but I wonder if comfy seating might make more sense.


And notice the single green boxwood in the planter. Not a Boston fern, but kinda the same idea..

Image Credits: 1-5 & 9. me, 6.Elle Decor September 1990, photo credit: Karen Radkai, 7.Country Living February 2011 photo credit: Bjorn Wallander, 8. House Beautiful February 2011 photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 10. I know this is House Beautiful, but I just can’t remember the credit. Please let me know if you know it.

Tokyo Jinja

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