Ichiroya has graciously allowed me to use images from their site to illustrate my ramblings. This is not a financial arrangement I have made - I simply believe them to be wonderful people with whom I enjoy doing business, and wish to support their endeavors. Ichiroya is a web based treasure trove of Japanese textiles, antiques, and information. If you haven't visited them in the past, just click on the icon to the left! Or, click on any of the images below to be taken directly to their page for more images and information.
Out with everything bad, in with everything good!
This is the basic concept behind the actions of the ancient couple as the old woman sweeps away all that one would prefer left behind, and the old man gathers in with his rake all that has been good and desirable.
Jotomba backed by a rising sun, offering hope of new adventures and good things to come. A ideal emblem for new beginnings and the first day of the new year.

Although the image represented is akebono, or sunrise, I find that to think of this as a sunset - representing contentment in a life well lived - is also very heart warming.
Takasago, the legend of the contented couple, is one of Japan's oldest and is performed in the Noh Theater story by the same name. Takasago is actually the location of the tale. The old man is called Jou and the old woman Uba, and as a couple they are called Jotomba. Deeply devoted in life, the old couple passed away within moments of each other and their spirits were transformed into pine trees: he a black pine and she a red. They are most commonly depicted with the woman on the right (as we face them), the man on the left, and often a pine tree in the background. It is not unusual to see them accompanied by a crane and a tortoise, as well as other felicitous symbols.
E-gasuri (pictorial ikat) piece. Indigo on cotton.
One of the particular joys of collecting Takasago designs, is comparing how the artist has chosen to depict the facial expressions of Jou and Uba. Compare the images shown in this article for just a hint of the nuances possible.
Hand-painted fukusa illustrating actors in the Noh Theater play. Notice they are wearing masks.
Jou is always shown to carry a rake and Uba a broom. As she sweeps away all sorrow and ill fortune, Jou takes care to rake in the blessings of the past. They are an excellent reminder of the joy and contentment that comes from striving through life's challenges in a devoted and loving relationship. This makes them ideally suited to be placed on display for all new undertakings. You will find their images portrayed at weddings, anniversaries, and New Year celebrations.
Wedding curtain in five panels. Silk, hand-painted. In this piece Jou is holding a fan in his right hand, the rake and broom are lying under the pine tree to the right. In the background we may see Houraisan, the Mountain of the Immortals.
Can you find the tortoise image along with the other felicitous images of the crane, pine, bamboo, and plum?
Not everyone expresses joy and contentment in the same manner...
Every now and again, I come across a curator with a very curious attitude. They will make comments such as “So much of Japanese art is simply a repeat of the same motif over and over again - there is no originality!” I've always found this view point very difficult to comprehend, as most often the same curator would never lament, “Oh, no! Another Renaissance Pieta!” The images have a very specific role to play in communicating cultural values in a direct and meaningful manner. The creativity and originality is in the subtle interpretations and nuances the artist is able to infuse in the work. This, unfortunately, is often lost on those visually illiterate in the culture. But what a delight it is to be able to share the humor of an artist from an earlier age, if only we take a few moments to learn to see.
with John Marshall
Welcome new friends and old! I've often been asked to write about a variety of Japanese textile and culture related subjects. This page allows me the opportunity to address your requests and to ramble off on side subjects wherever my whim and imagination lead.
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