Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art

A Fine Japanese Fukusa - Design of a Treasure Ship

A Fine Japanese Fukusa - Design of a Treasure Ship

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Directory: Vintage Arts: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Textiles: Pre 1980: Item # 1266335

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This is an old fukusa with a carefully woven treasure ship presented from the front. This is an unusual design with a light tan and gold color palette which shows a soft and elegant ship loaded with all the good things in life. On the red red silk reverse there is a large and bold paulownia flower executed in gold thread. This paulownia flower pattern (go-shichi-no-kiri) is the Mon (symbol) of the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan.

The treasure ship is one of the most common themes on fukusa. As depicted here it rides on a sea of stylized waves executed in gold and with silver highlights representing the froth of breaking waves. The treasure ship symbolizes a wish for all the good things in life: wealth, success, happy marriage, wisdom and other virtues associated with a long and prosperous life. Among the ships contents are a coin bag and both red and white coral for industry and imagination. Flying above the ship are two white cranes the symbols of good luck and longevity. Streaks of golden clouds stream above the ship.

In the middle of the ship are large embroidered designs of "The Three Friends of Winter". 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. They are also referred to simply by their linked names: Song Zhu in Chinese, transliterated as Sho Chiku Bai in Japanese (literally "pine, bamboo, plum").

In a Korean poem by Kim Yuki (1580-1658), the three friends are brought together in order to underline the paradoxical contrast:

"Peach and plum of springtime, don't flaunt your pretty blossoms;

Consider rather the old pine and green bamboo at year's end. What can change these noble stems and their flourishing evergreen? "

The fukusa measures 26 1/2 by 25" and is in excellent condition. The only minor issue is that one of the gold thread tassels at the corners is missing. We date the piece to the Taisho to early Showa period, circa 1920 - 1960s.

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.