Archive for October, 2012

Jenny’s post the other day on the great Warhol print she got for her little girls’ room reminded me of something – another kind of print – a vintage Japanese woodblock one called chiyogami, that looks a lot like her Warhol on a much smaller scale.

Chiyogami (chiyo meaning “a thousand years” or “through eternity” and kami/gami “paper”) has been made since the Edo era and continues to be popular today. Early papers, like these examples from the Taisho period between the wars were block printed much in the same way as traditional ukiyo-eI think their bright colors and stylized prints, based originally on kimono fabric patterns, would look wonderful hung en masse in a child’s room. While based on traditional designs, these patterns skirt the edges of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Simple frames of the IKEA variety are one inexpensive and easy way to complete a wall display…

…while wrapping canvas stretchers is a bit more unusual. These are covered in modern chiyogami examples.

New chiyogami is available all over Japan and online at all the paper sites, but the new pieces are silkscreened or machine printed and don’t have quite the same feel. Maybe it’s because the patterns have become ubiquitous to me, but framed they look too much like scrapbook paper – one-dimensional with no heft to the paper. But actually, still pretty…

I love framing and hanging things that were never meant for that purpose.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints

Image credits: 1. via Little Green Notebook, 2-9. me, 10. via Style at Home, 11-12. via Apartment Therapy.

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It all started with this painting of the Eiffel Tower. A Japanese artist tourist had painted it along with a whole portfolio of Paris scenes in a kind of sumi-e (ink brush painting) meets watercolors style. It was the first of many items on an unofficial “French Day” at the Oedo Antiques Fair at the International Forum in Yurakacho. A big trend I have been noticing at the markets, but most particularly at Oedo, is the influx of Western antiques, most particularly French or French style, and a distinct style of displaying, even curating them. Unlike the regular flea market jumble you usually get, wares are set up neatly on a blanket or table and sometimes styled even further with props that are not actually for sale. This European shabby chic aesthetic is immensely popular here and for those of us who love a global mix, it is fun to have a change up from the usual Japanese items.  Oedo is about 50% non-Japanese these days and that area seems to be growing.

We saw lace, thread spools and buttons.

Vintage enamel ware, canisters and luggage.

Printing stamps.

Pewter, grainsack hemp and antlers.

Lace, buttons in a hatbox and ephemera.

White faience (better known as ironstone in English).

Herbiers and boots.

The Alexander Platz booth had more of a German bent and no, that vintage mannequin was NOT for sale!

Botanicals, German candy molds and vintage teddy bears.

There were stacks of French textiles too.

We spied an antique red toile curtain under dishes and some cool accordion sconces. Turns out there were two – making a pair – and the dealer (who lives in Belgium but travels to the French markets regularly) seems to have misplaced a zero on the price. While many of the European antiques can be overpriced, these were an utter bargain. Antique toiles are normally so pricey! In a moment, my friend had reimagined her yet to be purchased Maine cottage to include these as a core of the design plan.

They are trimmed out with the prettiest ruffle and have a charming seersucker lining. I am still wondering if the dealer got his English numbers confused, but he happily took the bills she handed him!

Faded red toile always reminds me of the amazing Penelope Bianchi‘s California bedroom, with its 18th century toile coverlet…

…and ottoman across the room. I really need to add this one to my post on favorite pink bedrooms.

And my own purchases this weekend? Well I scored the mommy mirror to the baby version I found here.

And right before the CWAJ Print Show closed Sunday night I went back for WATANABE Kanako’s amazing print. I had been dreaming about it all weekend which finally meant I had to have it. No idea where it will hang, but the mysterious Alice/Red Riding Hood figure caught me and would not let go!

I am always a sucker for an atmospheric woodcut.

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So, if a picture paints a thousand words, what does this one paint for you? Do you see antique blue and white porcelain umbrella stands and plant holders? Or do you see three squatty potties and two urinals? If you chose the latter, then you have chosen correctly. Antique blue and white toilets called benki were popular in the late Meiji and Showa periods, often installed in fine ryokan (inns) or wealthier people’s homes. Fairly rare as singletons, to see an entire collection of five all together is almost unheard of, but this dealer at Kawagoe shrine sale last month bucked the odds. I assume he salvaged them all at one place, perhaps as an old building was being torn down.

Most of these painted pieces are in the Seto style, my favorite, although some seem to be Imari as well. And they were definitely produced on some kind of large organized scale as I have noticed there are only a few basic shapes and patterns that are repeated in all the ones I have seen.  The toilets tend to be rectangular, with a squared off front or oval, with a rounded front. The rims always have a tiny detailed painted pattern, quite often traditional karakusa (scrolling arabesque), while the under hood area has a large bunch of flowers.

The urinals fall into one of two categories, either the more tubular umbrella stand shape on the right or the more cornucopia shaped one laying on the ground on the left. Older examples, both of the toilet and the urinals, like the one I saw before here, are hand painted, while the later versions are often more heavily transfer printed.

Somushi Tea House in Kyoto looks as if it has been around for ever, but actually was renovated to look old. To give it that Meiji feel they installed vintage bathroom fixtures. If you were at all confused about how this functioned as a toilet, here’s your answer. And note how similar this one is to two of the toilets above.

On the left is the urinal at Somushi which is more of a cornucopia shape and looks like an earlier hand painted Seto piece. The photo on the right is not as finely painted and looks to be Imari, but it is quite similar to the one laying on the left in the Kawagoe photo above. Umbrella stands seem to be the standard use du jour of retired urinals. The toilets make good planters and I have even seen one turned vertically and used as a garden fountain.

Now for those of you who don’t know, there is complicated toilet etiquette in Japan. In addition to taking off your shoes upon entering any home and putting on slippers, there are special separate toilet slippers kept inside the bathroom. Normally these are ordinary slippers, but I have actually seen painted porcelain ones on a few occasions, out in the markets that is, not in someone’s home. Were these really worn? Or are they just ornamental? I’m not sure, but I didn’t buy this pair last May because their condition wasn’t great. I think they’d make a witty addition to a vignette.

I have seen a few other pairs in my travels and they have always been similar to these, with that distinct feathery Seto style painting.

Without any formal knowledge on the subject, my instincts tell me that the idea for the painted fixtures comes straight from the West. It was not unusual to have painted and transfer printed toilets in the 19th century, like these Victorian versions from Great Britain. There was a tremendous amount of cross-fertilization in the porcelain industry going on in the late 19th century, with ideas, motifs and techniques (such as transfer printing) winging their way back and forth.

And the title of this post? It roughly translates as “feels good toilet,” but maybe “looks good toilet” would be even better. And I know my Japanese grammar isn’t actually correct, but I couldn’t resist the rhyme…

Related Posts:
Made for Export and in My Basement…Seto Porcelain Garden Stool
Shop Talk…Discovering Antique Treasures in Nishi-Ogikubo

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