Overview of Back Issues
Topics in this issue: , Daruma 60, fishing-in-Japan, hanten, Japanese-fishermen's-coats, kameda-bosai, kimono, Maiwai
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Overview of Back Issues
Spotlight on Artists
By Sunagawa Akira : Excerpt from Daruma 19
Fire-fighters jackets are a subject of keen interest to many people and appear in important museum collections overseas, like those in the Seattle and Los Angeles County Museums. This article describes these unique articles from a culture which is no more.
Called hikeshi sashiko hanten in Japanese, they are several-layered garments which were designed to be wetted and to protect firemen from bruises and burns while working. The multiple layers were important in guarding the wearer against falling objects as well as burns.
In a way the jackets enjoyed the same kind of prestige as a spaceman’s suit today — with their designs and advanced technical skills, they epitomized high technology as well as fashion, and were worn by the pin-up boys of the time. Firemen were widely admired for their bravery and morality, unlike the political leaders of our time!This article features photographs and data from the Kuwata Collection, one of the best in the world. Kuwata Michio and Mieko are from Fuchu, Tokyo. They regularly took part in a festival at Okunitama Shrine in May. Many participants wore sashiko jackets and they were fascinated by the material. Each year they wanted to wear different patterned jackets so started collecting these storied old garments, though they were hard to find and sometimes a whole year passed without their finding a new one for the collection.
Ascending and Descending Dragons, 108 x 121 cm., early Meiji Period
Technique of sashiko
The word sashiko mentioned in this article refers to stitching techniques and designs. As when making quilts in the West, sashiko stitchers laid several pieces of cotton cloth one over another and hand-stitched them together. Sashiko stitches were used in a variety of clothing such as farmers work clothes and aprons, fishermens heavy winter clothing, garments worn under armor in battle, and babies diapers.
The thickness of sashiko stitching reinforced cloth so as to help shoulder heavy burdens, protect the body against heat and cold, or weapons; its abrasive surface also tended to harden any skin which came into contact with its knotted surface. Even today, sashiko is used in judo uniforms and floor cloths for those reasons. Cotton cloth was suited to sashiko as it absorbs water readily. Super-thick, hand-spun cotton threads were used to give body. All the cloth and threads were dyed with real indigo.
The “han” in hanten implies short garment and “ten” means “to be clad’” So a “hanten” is an over garment without a collar which turns down, like haori or Japanese half-length coats. You can see sashiko stitching also on the gloves, momohiki underpants, undershirts, tabi socks and hoods of firemen.
Three groups of designs on fire-fighters’ jackets
1. Single images: firemen wore single images inside, to obviate damage to the design and be modest while working, though they might display it the next day, like a combatant after a tussle. As the designs were just like tattoos in nature and subject matter, there was a reluctance to show them to people at large, so the designs were kept hidden most of the time.
2. Sogata-moyo : repeated patterns which spread all over the surface, using a stencil dyeing technique. Each brigade or kumi of firemen used a different pattern: Genji wheels, sangi-tsunagi (like flag stones) or linked ishime measures. These made it easy to distinguish brigade members, even from afar.
3. Others: indigo with no pattern, or with each brigade’s mark.