Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art

A Handsome Fukusa with Several Signs of Good Fortune

A Handsome Fukusa with Several Signs of Good Fortune

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Textiles: Pre 1920: Item # 1293968

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This fukusa probably dates from the late Edo to early Meiji periods circa 1840s - 1890s. It measures 31 1/2" by 28" and is backed with a large piece of red silk. The fukusa is in generally good shape. There are two strong horizontal and vertical lines from having been folded - these can easily be pressed out when framing the fukusa. The vertical line that looks like it is white is simply a reflection off of the vertical crease caused by the flood lights used to photograph the piece - it is not a sign of damage. There are two corner tassels missing - and the red backing has a short splits in it where the two fold lines intersect.

Traditionally in Japan, gifts were placed in a box on a wooden or lacquer tray, over which a fukusa was draped. The choice of a fukusa appropriate to the occasion was an important part of the gift-giving ritual. The practice of covering a gift became widespread during the Edo or Tokugawa period (1615–1867). After being admired, a fukusa, along with its box and tray, were typically returned to the donor. However, when gifts were presented to a high official, the fukusa was not always returned. This was one of the subtle devices used to control the wealth of the lords and samurai.

The symbols on this fukusa all have to do with good fortune and long life. The largest design is the face of the old man with the beard - Okina, a famous Noh mask used in the Sambaso dance in the Noh dramas. It is usually part of a New Years celebration. The mask is considered particularly sacred and has been at times treated as the embodiment of god, bringing longevity and prosperity to families.

In the upper left corner of the fukusa we see two flying cranes. Cranes in Japanese textiles generally represent longevity and good fortune. Along the left side is a stylized pine tree - at the bottom is a branch of bamboo - and the geometrical designs surrounding the face of Okina are supposed to represent plum blossoms. Culturally, the Three Friends of Winter—pine, bamboo, and plum—are grouped together in the context of winter because they all flourish at that season. For this reason they are commonly known as the Three Friends of Winter. Together they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience. They are highly regarded in Confucianism and as such represent the scholar-gentleman's ideal.