Japanese Cotton Fireman’s Sashiko ‘Hikeshi Banten’ Hanten Jackets: Wearable Art

When I came upon this antique fireman’s hanten(jacket) from the Meiji(1868-1912) or early Taisho(1912-1926)period, it prompted me to do some research on these rugged, well crafted and often whimsically decorated coats. It also prompted me to open my wallet, but that’s another story!

Sashiko hanten like this are called ‘hikeshi banten’ in Japanese, literally ‘fireman’s jacket.’ Its heavy cotton was meant to absorb a good deal of water to help protect its wearer from the fire. After being soaked in water, they were worn with the plain side facing out, with the design as the lining. It must have been quite heavy with all that water weight added to this thick fabric!

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In the days before electricity came into widespread use, it was all too common in Japan for fires to break out on account of candles and lanterns, and as Japanese houses are traditionally made of wood and paper, it’s not hard to imagine how formidable and common a foe fire was in the daily lives of the citizenry.

As such, the role of the fireman in the community was vital and the rudimentary tools that they relied on along with the factors mentioned above stacked the odds in favor of the fire more often than not. Firemen were therefore seen as courageous men of valor and honor who would without hesitation sacrifice themselves in the interest of coming to the aid of their community.

After the fire was put out, the firemen would take off their jackets and wear them inside out to to show off the elaborate designs that had been hidden from view until then. To see firemen wearing their jackets in such showy fashion was to know that the danger was past and they had come through the battle unscathed, or at least well enough to fight again.

They’d then walk through town on the way perhaps to a local drinking establishment, attracting the gaze of admiring townsfolk appreciative of their courage and envious of their distinctive jackets, in a victory lap of sorts.

The theme of the work is referred to as ‘Hi no tamashi ni mukao wakamusha’ in Japanese, which means ‘A Young Warrior Confronts the Spirit of the Fire.’

These are always a pleasure to come across, and if you’re interested in seeing a range of intriguing motifs, a quick net search should yield interesting results.

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Originally posted 2015-09-22 14:30:03.

Arashiyama Monkey Park: Wild Monkeys and a Great Kyoto View!

Looking for fun and unique things to do in Arashiyama?

In addition to its other charms, the area offers a great view of the city if you’re willing to set aside a little time and don’t mind some climbing. And Arashiyama Monkey Park on Iwatayama Mountain is a great reason to make the hike!

When you visit Kyoto, especially if your trip comes on the heels of time spent in Tokyo, you’ll likely be struck by the low skyline. Kyoto City imposes strict regulations on construction, which has helped Kyoto to maintain its charms over the years, even as other locales succumb to development and the ‘higher is better’ mentality.

Look and you’ll notice Kyoto Tower in the top photo. It certainly stands out, whereas it would surely be lost among the jumble of tall buildings that define Tokyo!

This also means though, that finding a good vantage point from which to get the lay of the land can be a challenge.  One great way to get a memorable view of the city is to head over to the western part of Kyoto.

Arashiyama plays host to a unique center often referred to in English as Monkey Park or Monkey Mountain.  You’ll also find it if you search using the name of the proper name of the mountain, Iwateyama(yama means mountain in Japanese).  The official English website is here.

After a climb, you’ll be greeted by wild monkeys, who are fed by the staff there.  Visitors also can feed them, with food for sale on the premises. There are feeding stations that visitors enter before offering snacks to the monkeys gathered outside.  Quite a refreshing twist on the standard scenario that finds the monkey in the enclosed space!

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While this is highly recommended, it isn’t for everyone-those with leg problems or other health issues should carefully consider whether they’re up to the climb, which can feel steep at times, especially in hot weather.  Kyoto’s humid summers make it seem even steeper, so do keep the season and the weather as well as your physical condition in mind before heading up there.  As always, a bottle of water, regardless of the weather, will serve you well!

Originally posted 2015-02-17 15:07:55.

Teach English in Japan WELL: Teacher Talking Time

Each Teach English in Japan WELL post offers up a practical tip for honing your teaching skills and work habits that can pay big dividends with students at conversation schools.

Contrary to popular belief, Charles Dickens was not paid by the word.  His books were long simply because he had something to say. And because he said it so well, the length of his works didn’t stand in the way of gaining an enduring following.

Although we as English teachers don’t get paid by the word either, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of us are, based on the way more than a few instructors take up a significant amount of class time and oxygen with their own talking.  

This is an affliction common among, though certainly not exclusive to new teachers, and becoming aware of this tendency and controlling it can play a big part in improving the quality of your teaching.

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I’m writing this specifically for those who want to teach English in Japan at an eikaiwa conversation school or in university or other classes that happen to focus on fostering the students’ speaking ability. But obviously, there are contexts where teachers are well and truly lecturers.

In a sense, teacher talking time is one of the easiest things to address or at least hone your awareness of, in that measuring how much time you spend talking is easy to do.

Simply invite someone such as a co-worker or head teacher to observe your lessons with that along with other aspects of the lesson in mind.  Then have a frank discussion with them about what they saw.

I started the previous paragraph with the word ‘simply’ but of course opening yourself up to such a critique can be very intimidating. So cultivating an atmosphere of trust with others in your workplace such as teachers and head teachers are important and can pay big dividends in this sense.

As we all know, talking too much is easy to do in general, and there are various reasons for a teacher talking too much in the classroom.

A basic belief that leads to this is that teaching equals talking, that you are there to instruct, to explain.  That your job is to share your knowledge and opinions. Ask yourself how well this describes your own take on teaching, and if not, try to put into words your own ideas about what role you serve.

Then there’s our fear of silence.  Years ago in the states I was a radio DJ.  Dead air was our nemesis. Silence was inherently bad.

Silence in the classroom isn’t necessarily so.  Productive, dynamic silence can lead to new ideas and new language skills as students take the time to absorb new constructs and attempt to master them.

But often, silence during a lesson does signal something is off, and teacher talking is an all too easy way to address those moments when students stop talking because something is too hard, not engaging, or played out.

How much do you talk in an average lesson? If you don’t know, put some thought and effort into finding out.

Originally posted 2020-01-22 02:21:48.

Star Wars Tenugui Cloths Make Great Gifts!

If you’re hunting for a gift for the Star Wars fan in your life, there are of course a zillion choices. And that’s the problem! But if the giftee in question has an affinity for things Japanese as well, then the choices get narrowed considerably.

And to my mind, in the realm of Japanese gifts for Star Wars fans, prime candidates are a line of made in Japan fabric cloths called tenugui that have lively and fun Star Wars themes that also incorporate various aspects of Japanese culture.

Aside from the cool factor, Japanese Star Wars tenugui cloths are quite light and compact when folded. Accordingly, you won’t pay much for shipping if you buy them online, and the so-called ‘free shipping’ that many sellers offer won’t mean inflated pricing for the tenugui itself to cover their own high shipping costs.

And of course in turn if you plan on sending a tenugui to someone, you won’t get dinged much for postage. And since these are flat, wrapping them for mailing is a cinch.

What is a tenugui?

I’ve answered that question at length in a separate post, in case you care to delve into the particulars-it’s a good read if you’re thinking about buying a tenugui and are curious about not just these designs, but the fabric as well.

Along with a long, rich history in Japan, tenugui cloths have certain distinct characteristics that you should be aware of before you make a purchase.

And you can pass along your new knowledge along with your gift, to give it some context and enhance its already considerable charm. Everyone loves a good story after all, and people who are into Japan and its culture will appreciate knowing more about these very Japanese textiles.

Though these fabrics were used as hand towels and headbands in the past, these days they are most often used as decor and look great on walls.

Having said that, these designs also do make great headwraps, similarly to how bandanas are used in the west, though the shape is a bit different, so please keep that in mind as well.

People who practice martial arts sometimes wear them during workouts, etc. and I’ve heard of folks who cover their heads with tenugui when they’re doing yard work.

A natural, lighthearted blend of cultural references

I did a double take when I first saw these star wars tenugui designs, and then of course it made perfect sense- George Lucas after all, has always cited Japanese cinema as a major influence. So this mashup is far from a random pairing.

As you might imagine, there’s a sense of irreverent fun running through these motifs. Some of the designs also incorporate classical kanji character sayings that when referenced in this context take on a fresh and lighthearted tone.

Here are some photos that I took myself of cool tenugui from this collection. All are made in Japan of 100% cotton with traditional dyeing methods and are officially licensed Star Wars products.

Click on a tenugui title above any of the Star Wars tenugui photos to see it on amazon.

Storm Troopers

It looks like these storm troopers mean business! So far, so normal. Look closely at the sky behind them though and this tenugui’s Japanese accents will come into sharper focus for you.

First of all, you might notice the waves on the right, which are stylized in a traditional way, almost appearing to have fingers, curled as if they’re beckoning you.

If you’re a Japanese textile aficionado, you might well also pick up on a reference to traditional fabric dyeing techniques in those clouds.

Look closely and those clouds are made up of a pattern that resembles shibori, Japanese tie-dye. Though it’s just a representation of that classic look and not the real thing of course, it adds a subtle, elegant reference for those in the know.

The fearsome looking cloud on the left looks like a ‘nyudogumo’ or thunderhead cloud, a fixture of Japanese summers. It’s got to be hot and humid out there-no wonder those storm troopers are peevish!

R2D2 and C3P0 Under the Sakura Cherry Blossoms

This tenugui features C3P0 in a philosophical mood, and who can blame him?

In this scene, after all, as he stands with R2D2, the sakura cherry blossoms are at their peak and petals are blowing in the breeze.

It’s just the sort of moment that over the centuries has inspired so many to wax poetically about the ephemeral beauty of life.

Cherry blossom viewing parties, known as hanami, are a fixture of early spring in Japan. They celebrate this transience with frivolity and fun along with food and drink served potluck style on blankets under the blossoms.

Darth Vader and Cherry Blossoms

Darth Vader caught in a contemplative moment, hoping that a delicate cherry blossom petal will waft its way into his outstretched, gloved hand.

Four kanji characters, pronounced gyoku seki kon kou, are written in the traditional vertical style on the right.

They constitute a classical expression which refers to a mix of disparate elements that aren’t often seen together, and are valued differently. Rocks and jewelry, for example….or Darth Vader and cherry blossoms, in this case!

R2D2 and C3P0 Take a Japanese Onsen Hot Spring Bath

C3P0 and R2D2 are seen here indulging in one of the highlights of a trip to Japan-a hot spring bath. This one’s especially inviting, as it’s outdoors with a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji in the fading light.

That’s a drawing of a ‘noren’ split curtain with the stylized mark of a public bath on it at the top of the tenugui, with steam coming out of it. You’ll see such noren curtains in front of onsen, as well as sento, which are public baths meant for everyday use.

Onsen like the one depicted are thought of as a special treat in that they’re often in scenic countryside locals away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

They’re also known for their spring water, which is often promoted as having medicinal properties, depending on the locale and the lore surrounding it.

These two are clearly up on public bath etiquette, as they’re taking care not to let their small bath towels get in the water! You can perch your towel on your head as R2D2’s doing.

And when you’re out of the bath, perhaps walking from one bath to another, your towel will likely come in handy, especially if you’re the modest type!

Darth Vader and Yoda

Darth Vader and Yoda square off with traditional Japanese waves.

The kanji characters written vertically are pronounced riki sen fun tou. that refers to a desire to fight with all your might, to give it all you’ve got.

This classical expression has a long and rich history and is most associated with battles in feudal times when there was little if any mercy shown to the vanquished and losers often didn’t have a chance to fight another day.

With the stakes so high in this epic clash between Darth Vader and Yoda, this sentiment seems entirely appropriate!

Darth Vader and Flames

A triumphant Darth Vader emerging from a wall of flames. Above him is a classical expression that conveys a sense of being in high spirits, full of power.

The second of the four kanji characters literally means ‘fire’ and this design clearly takes its cue from that! The kanji characters are pronounced ki en ban jyou.

May the force be with you in your search for something (inter)stellar. Star Wars tenugui might be just what you’re after!

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!

Originally posted 2019-11-23 21:49:12.