Hanten and happi

July 18th, 2005 by Anna

Get wrapped up in Japanese stitchery is an article that describes some of the 61 hanten and happi currently on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum. It’s very well-written, as you can see from these excerpts:

Hanten coats were half the length of a kimono, fit snugly and had a flat collar. They were made of three layers of cotton dyed, stenciled or painted before being sashiko-stitched.

Sashiko stitching is a running stitch done by hand with three to four stitches to the inch.

“It pulled the fabric together in lines that are almost like tucks,” explains Amneus. “It created a kind of padding that helped protect the firefighters from falling debris.”

It also shortened the coat, which the artists creating the designs had to take into account. The coats were drenched with water to allow the firemen to get closer to the fire and could weigh as much as 84 pounds when fully soaked. Elaborate paintings like this reversed to a geometric design that identified a specific fire brigade. The artwork often repeated the complex tattoos that were common at the time.

The carp is a symbol of perseverance, determination and strength.

“Happi are wonderfully bold, graphic and straightforward,” says Amneus. They also are lighter since they are made of just one layer and are not quilted. Their designs make them walking billboards.

“They were first worn by male servants of samurai and had the symbol of the samurai on them,” says Amneus. “Then wealthy farmers and merchants and their employees wore them. They are still worn, some even have English words on them, and are like our T-shirts or jackets – something to toss on.”

Japanese doll culture

June 28th, 2005 by Anna

A fascinating article on ningyo (dolls): Unlikely expert figures in Japanese doll exhibit. From the article:

Pate, who has devoted more than a decade to this topic, says Japanese doll culture dates back to 4000 B.C. Many were made for household displays, erected by families to mark the annual Girl’s Day or Boy’s Day festivals. Others appeared at street festivals, entertaining crowds with scenes from Japanese history or folklore. They range from simple miniatures, only a few inches tall, to 5-foot-tall creatures with limbs that were moved by hidden operators.

And the costumes! Each fabric, each weave, was heavy with meaning – and danger. Competition among ningyo manufacturers was so fierce, the government eventually regulated the trade.

“Dollmakers were arrested and banished for violating limitations on the dolls’ heights and materials,” Pate said. “The back-stories behind these dolls are full of drama.”

A quick update about the site: I’ve asked a very knowledgeable friend, Safran, to join as a co-author. However, like me, Safran is extremely busy, and kimono require time and patience. Also, I still don’t have a digicam to photograph my kitsuke attempts, thus the sporadic posts of late. I miss being able to post here and sincerely hope I’ll get more opportunities soon!

The Shape of Tea

May 29th, 2005 by Anna

There’s a nice article about an exhibition currently being held in Duxbury, Massachussetts (USA): Harmony, respect, purity, tranquility – Art Complex Museum tea exhibit offers a taste of Japan. It has a sensitive and detailed take on the exhibition, as well as giving an informative historical overview of the Japanese tea ceremony. Although the article only touches on kimono, the tea ceremony is of course one of the events to which kimono are worn, and much of the symbolism is shared.

A tea ceremony is intended to convey four Zen principles – harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Utensils are props embodying one or more of those principles. At specific intervals within the ceremony each guest in turn speaks about the objects and the principles they exemplify.

Beyond their functional role in preparing and serving tea, these utensils assist participants to meditate more successfully and to vocalize the four principles.

The combination of a charcoal brazier and the kettle resting within it at July’s station radiates harmony and tranquility. A beautiful harmony is produced between varied browns of the bronze brazier and the mid-range brown of the kettle. At the same time, there is pleasing contrast of textures between the pitted iron of the kettle and polished sheen of the brazier. As a guest mediates on the harmony of these two objects, he finds himself enveloped into that harmony.

Kimono videos

March 20th, 2005 by Anna

The wonderful Tokyo Traditional Crafts site has videos on how several crafts are made – just click to see the variety. For the videos it’s best to right-click on the Broadband button and choose “Save Link As” rather than clicking directly – the broadband files range from about 5-10 meg, and that way you have a permanent copy. (All videos are narrated in Japanese.)

For kimono, I started out with Tokyo tegaki yuuzen (Tokyo handpainted yuzen – a silk dyeing technique). It starts out with an artisan sketching flowers, then has shots of kimono (in particular a beautiful furisode) and the dyeing process from sketch to finish. (English explanations of the same videos.) There is a great deal of information for those interested in what goes into making a kimono: you can see the kimono outline used for sketching, how resist is applied and so forth. Even gold leafing is shown, as well as how mon (family crests) are applied. Watching these videos makes it much easier to appreciate the “high” prices of yuzen kimono.

Continuing on the dyeing theme, there are videos on Edo sarasa (Edo calico; stencil-dyed) and yukata dyed with the Chusen Chugata technique, which has several shots of people wearing yukata. The sarasa technique looks very well like it could be the one used to dye my patchwork tsumugi and stripes komon. It’s fascinating how the different stencils all “layer” to create a variegated end design.

As for weaving, True Golden Hachijo (kihachijo) begins with a lovely panorama of the area it’s named after, and then moves to a weaver’s workshop. There are kihachijo production descriptions in English based on the videos. Also look at Tama fabrics for another regional weave. I love the shot of the weaver with all the spools in the background! (Tamaori production explained in English.) There are videos on obijime (kumihimo) just beneath the Tama fabrics videos on the Tokyo page.

The site linked for English explanations, Traditional Crafts of Japan, is another treasure trove of information, also with videos. The Tokyo site’s organization is a bit easier to navigate as concerns finding videos.

Last but not definitely not least, the gorgeous videos on Edo embroidery. The first video has a lovely worn kimono and obi.

Coming back to life

February 21st, 2005 by Anna

After eight months away (I never imagined it would be so long), I’m beginning to have enough time to post here once again.

As you’ve already noticed if you’ve visited before, the site design has changed – the top image is of tsujigahana, my favorite technique. Other pages on the site haven’t yet been updated, but as soon as I have time everything should look the same. (Also, if anything doesn’t work quite right, no worries, I’ll fix it eventually.)

I am still very busy and my own kimono are in storage right now, waiting until I can find a more permanent home for myself, so posts here may be sporadic. That said, thanks to everyone who has shown continued interest in this site! I really appreciate such enthusiastic visitors.

Still here

June 23rd, 2004 by Anna

Thanks to everyone for your emails – and sorry if I haven’t replied to you yet, I will!

Some visitors have noticed that I haven’t updated in a while. That and my tardy replies to email have a simple explanation: the last two months of my life have been overwhelming. Although things are going fine overall, the best way I can describe it without writing a book (which, in fact, I have, for my real-life diary has had 350 pages filled in these last two months) is that it has to do with everything, and my entire life is changing from bottom to top, with no guarantees whatsoever as to the outcome.

So I ask for your patience – I have all sorts of things planned for my website, and I will start posting again regularly someday (soon, I hope).

Pink, purple and butterfly gallery additions

May 31st, 2004 by Anna

Two kimono and a haori were added to the gallery today:

o Pink Poem Rafts Edo Komon

o Vintage Purple Meisen Haori

o Butterflies on Blue Hikifurisode

Pink Edo komon

May 17th, 2004 by Anna

This outfit is one I got for myself as a birthday gift. Through some strange act of fate, both were sold (separately) at the same time, and won for a very reasonable price – so reasonable I could hardly believe it. The Edo komon is exactly the right size, in excellent condition and my favorite pink. The motif is nice too: poem rafts decorated with chrysanthemums. Rafts would be used to float unfinished poems downstream, where others would pick up the poem, add a line and send it afloat again, until the poem was eventually completed. The rafts were often decorated with flowers.

(Click for larger photos.)

I again tried tying the obi wider: 20cm (8″). It’s not perfectly straight, but all in all I’m happy with how the otaiko bow turned out. My kitsuke seems to be getting better as well – I can’t find any “big” mistakes and dressing goes much more quickly than before. Perseverance is paying off!