Japanese Cat Fabric Furoshiki Cloths

Japan is crazy about its cats, so it will come as no surprise that cat fabric can be found is a wide array of cute designs.

There are cat cafes, various ‘cat islands’ with large numbers of ‘neko’ as they are known in Japanese. And one cat named Tama was even elevated to the position of station master at a Wakayama Prefecture train station, where she attracted thousands of fans and lots of merchandise sales.

Tama is also the name of the cat featured on a series of twelve furoshiki made by a Kyoto company. But this is just coincidence, as Tama is among the most popular and well known names for cats in Japan.

Tama also happens to mean ‘ball’ in Japanese, but the name doesn’t carry that meaning-it’s simply made up of sounds that are pleasing to the ear and have come to have an endearing ring to them.

The cotton fabric pictured below is from the Tama the cat furoshiki series and is one of my favorites because it includes various aspects of the culture that I know well from many winter days spent indoors in old, drafty houses without central heating.

This Tama is a native breed called a Japanese Bobtail. They come in various colors, but the calico(mi-ke) variety is the most well known abroad and also has wide popularity in Japan. As such, it’s a good bet that if you see cat fabric that comes from Japan, it could well feature this beloved breed.

Though Tama is snoozing in this scene, as Japanese Bobtails are naturally active and playful, she can be seen out and about among some vivid seasonal scenery in the other designs in the series. The Tama furoshiki featuring her out for a stroll under cherry blossoms shows her in fine, active form.

But while she’s dozing in the design below, you really can’t blame her. ‘Kotatsu’ low tables with heating elements and blankets to retain the heat like the one depicted on the fabric cloth below are indeed magnets for not only cats but also their owners!

And the ‘mikan’ mandarin oranges in the bowl are also fixtures of the season. It’s a good thing they’re so easy to peel, because a little time spent with your legs under a table like this will make anything that takes more than a modicum of effort seem like its just not worth the bother!

japanese cat fabricDepictions of cats in Japanese art have a long history, including the work of noted masters of ‘Ukiyo-e’ woodblock prints.

Paramount among them is Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who created numerous works featuring cats in the 19th century. His inspiration was never far away-it’s said that his studio was full of his feline muses!

Recently, in recognition of this, another Japanese furoshiki cloth maker has produced cat fabric that is sure to please cat lovers in and outside of Japan. It incorporates a multitude of cats in fanciful poses taken from his works.

Have a look below and you’ll be hard pressed not to get a sense of just how devoted he was to his models! Click on either of the photos to see it on amazon.

kuniyoshi catsWhether you find it as furoshiki squares as above or as yardage or in another form, Japanese cat fabric has a spirit and a flair all its own.

Look carefully and you’ll see that like Japanese textiles in general, many interesting aspects of this fascinating culture are also illuminated, and the longer you look, the more you’ll find to enjoy!

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Originally posted 2017-04-11 18:00:33.

Black Crested Formal Kimono Dyeing in Nagoya

Before I read an English version in the Japan Times this week of an article that originally ran in the Chunichi Shinbun newspaper, I had admittedly begun to take black crested formal kimono for granted.  As elegant as they are, I’ve seen hundreds of used kimono like this at Kyoto’s famed monthly markets at Toji Temple and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The markets are affectionately referred to by locals as Kobosan and Tenjinsan and are held on the 21st and 25th of every month respectively.

I’ve bought many of these formal black kimono over the years for resale, and the prices are always very reasonable because when Japanese people do buy vintage kimono for wear or projects these days, this type is of relatively limited use. As formal kimono they include family crests, and it’s always interesting to look at a crest to see if it’s an often seen one or not.  There are hundreds of crests, with many that look quite similar with small variations.  Some crests are more common in certain parts of Japan, so there is a geographical component to them as well. I’ve browsed lots of reference books on kamon as the crests are known in Japanese. My favorite is the well worn one on my bookshelf now, Family Crests of Japan.

Other than the crests, well, black is elegant, but black’s black, or so I’ve always thought. That’s what was so enlightening about the story about a Nagoya dye company and the two brothers who are striving to adapt to a changing marketplace.  It turns out that traditionally made black crested kimono have an especially deep tone which includes just a bit of blue and red. They are shokunin-true craftsmen!

 

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Living as I do in Nishijin, traditionally Kyoto’s weaving center, I’m well acquainted with the challenges that traditional kimono and obi makers face, and I’ve seen numerous attempts at changing their product lines to combat sagging sales as fewer and fewer Japanese wear kimono.  I’ve even seen dog wear made of silk brocade of the type traditionally associated with fine obi.

Nagoya’s Nakamura brothers are betting that their dyeing and designing skills will make such new products such as t-shirts and stoles appealing to a new generation. Other companies, including at least one in Kyoto, specialize in dyeing their clients’ old clothes black.  Which seems like another great way to put traditional skills to use, and also to give used clothing a new lease on life.

I didn’t know that Nagoya has long been a center of kuro-montsuki black crested kimono dyeing. But thanks to this article, I looked and in no time ran across an informative English video about another Nagoya dyeing company! This one is run by the Takeda family.  Mr. Takeda is seen below dyeing various kimono, and the focus shifts to black dyeing and family crests just after the five-minute mark.

Originally posted 2017-03-22 15:14:57.

Shinmei-ichi Festival: Home of the Largest Daruma Doll in Japan?

I’ve written quite a few articles about daruma dolls, and in my research I found a 2004 column by Amy Chavez on the Japan Times website that chronicles with her usual flair, her quest to buy a daruma doll at the Shinmei-ichi Daruma Doll Festival in Mihara.
I hadn’t heard of the festival before, and it sounds like a good excuse to get to know that beautiful area on the Seto Inland Sea in Hiroshima Prefecture better. As the festival has just come and gone for another year though, I’ll have to wait a while before the chance comes around again!

I also learned that Shinmei is another name for the sun goddess Amaterasu, a major deity in the shinto faith.

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If you happen to be in Japan some future February, it seems like a fun way to sample local cuisine as well as see lots of daruma dolls!  It’s been held for over 400 years, so it seems safe to assume that it will continue to be a festive February option.
Hundreds of street stalls offer a variety of temptations.  And then there are the daruma dolls. A giant daruma doll is on display and proudly bears the kanji characters 日本一(Nihon Ichi) to signify that it’s the biggest daruma doll in Japan. Check the short video below to see what it you can expect if you go.

At 30 seconds into the clip you’ll see a row of daruma dolls lined up for sale according to size and the camera pans from big to small. In case you’re curious, here are the prices for the largest three:  15 was going for ¥20000($175USD), 14 for ¥15000($132USD) and 13 for ¥10000($89). I don’t know if I’d be willing to part with mine after a year at those prices!

Kyoto Collection is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means I earn a small amount of money every time you click on a link I provide and purchase something on Amazon. It will be put to very good use the next time I take my family to the neighborhood revolving sushi joint, and we thank you!

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Originally posted 2017-03-19 15:01:12.