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Treasures from John’s Collection: Kintarou 金太郎
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Kintarou is yet another of the many delightful characters on display during Boys Day. He was raised in the mountains by the Yamauba, the Old Lady of the Mountain. His companions were the wild animals of the forest and he spent his play time wrestling with monkeys and bears, riding rough-and-ready carp up waterfalls, and becoming one of the great heroes of Japanese folklore.
With fierce determination, you can almost feel the tension in his hands and feet as he struggles to maintain his grip on the obviously startled koi.
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This piece is entirely dyed with natural pigment dyes. Rice-paste resist has been used in the form of tsutsugaki. The lines drawn with paste have a wonderfully folksy quality. The dynamic boldness of the powerful colors add to the drama of the moment.  Handwoven cotton, dyed to match identically on both sides of the banner. Late Edo Period.
Nobori Depicting Kintarou
Riding Huge Carp
Bravery and the sheer determination exhibited by Kintarou
in his exploits has kept him a positivie roll model
for boys in Japan.
The pigments used in the above piece are very similar to the pigments used for other folk crafts in Japan, including papier maché to block prints.
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Images of Kintarou can be found decorating every imaginable object in Japan, from roof tiles to man-hole covers.
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Kintarou Rolly-Polly Doll
The papier maché rolly-polly doll above is a good example of pigments used in folk crafts. Pigments have the amazing ability to retain a vibrant quality over many years of use and exposure to sun. If you are an artist interested in taking advantage of the what pigments have to offer, you may want to keep an eye out for a class I teach from time to time called Down and Dirty–Pigments Under Our Feet.

Sign in Forest Asking People to Keep His Home Clean
Man-hole Cover Featuring Kintarou Riding a Bear, Ookayama Prefecture
Nobori may have very large dramatic depictions of Kintarou, however, next I would like to present a much more modest portrayal.



Fukusa are used when presenting gifts to another person or household. They don’t actually wrap the gift, but rather rest on top as a decorative covering. They are the ultimate in recycled gift wrap in that the fukusa is returned to the giver to be used another time.
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Fukusa Depicting Kintarou Playing with a Bear Cub
Fukusa Depicting Kintarou Playing with a Bear Cub
The above fukusa was created using a method of pieced quilting called kiribame. It is often mistaken for appliqué.

Each piece is cut and fitted, much like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. And most pieces are dyed with pigments before being sewn. Most of the fabric used is chirimen, however Kintarou’s harakake (belly wrap) is kinran. The bear’s features have been embroidered with grey thread on black chirimen silk.
Pigment use is more apparent in the detail showing the pine branches above. To help you understand the process a bit better, I’ve prepared my own modern-day Kintarou and “carp” fukusa, below.
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Detail of Kintarou Fukusa Showing Pigment Use in Dyeing the Pine Branches
I’ve always enjoyed dovetailing tasks. In the above piece I was seeking to 1-make a small fukusa, 2-illustrate the use of pigments on silk, 3-prepare directions for creating a kiribame sample, and 4-play with representing the refraction of light through different surfaces. In this case we see part of Kintarou’s face to the side of the bowl unobstructed, we see his face as distorted by the glass of the bowl, and lastly, his face as it is further distorted and blurred through the water in the bowl–each requiring a slightly different method of pigment application.
Modern Day Kintarou Kiribame Fukusa by John Marshall
Pieces Basted in Place
as the Edges are
Hand Stitched Together
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If you would like to take a look at another fukusa I have created, click on this sentence to go to the Surface Design Association. Once there, click on the image for Golden Gate Bridge as Viewed from North Bay. While you’re at it, consider becoming a member of the Surface Design Association! It’s a great organization for artists of all media.
Pieces Roughly Outlined and Details Dyed with Natural Pigments
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