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Posts Tagged ‘Seto’

So the movers showed up promptly this morning and it was a whirlwind. I have so many fragile and precious items that we planned for a special internal tri-wall container in our container for breakables. So last week I had moved things from the staid and orderly…

antique Chinese bamboo altar table byobu blue and white procelain

…to over the top exuberant, by grouping like items with like. I hadn’t quite realized the sum total of blue and white porcelain I had collected over the years – and this still doesn’t represent all of it!

blue and white porcelain round up

In under an hour, the movers had reduced it (or built it, depending on your point of view) to this. Someone commented on how neatly it was all stacked – c’mon, this is Japan after all.

moving boxes altar table

I haven’t had a moment to blog, but at my final Kawagoe shrine sale a friend asked if there was anything I regretted not buying. Out of the blue I replied that I wished I had bought a blue and white benki – a vintage toilet. Lo and behold, the last dealer I went to had one for a bargain price. Stay tuned to see what I am planning on doing with it in Doha. You can see it tucked in there among the hibachi.

blue and white porcelain round up

Details of some favorite Seto porcelain…

seto porcelain details

…including another last-minute purchase from Tomioka Hachiman, a Seto jubako, as if I needed another.

Seto porcelain jubako round up

How long have I been promising a post on Kutani porcelain? At least two years! I promise to get to it one of these days. A little Imari snuck into this photo too.

Kutani round up

Candlesticks galore…

candlestick round up

…and the cream of a glass fishing float and bottle collection.

glass and fishing float round up

Not everything that needs to be packed originated here. I came with quite a few collections!

lavender transferware  round up

Lavender Staffordshire, better known as transferware, has been a lifelong passion. A rare color and quite difficult to find, I have been buying floral and neoclassical patterns since I was a teen. Mine was made in England (and in a few cases France) in the late 19th century as a shortcut to hand painting china. It actually has a reciprocal relationship with Asian porcelain if you think about it this way – Japanese inban is also transfer printed (they got the idea from the West) but many of the European transfer patterns (think Blue Willow for example) are based on Asian hand painted pieces. More about this here, here and here.

lavender transferware details

When we moved to Tokyo I knew it might be for 3-5 years – didn’t expect 9 – and we planned to rent out our apartment so we moved everything we owned including a few major antiques like this painted 19th century armoire. It has gorgeous flowers and birds on a background of that perfect French green-grey and its original bevelled mirror. You can see the campaign bed I wrote about the other day reflected and it has been in my daughter’s room since she was a baby. Typically, her bedroom in NY didn’t have a closet!

19th c painted french armoire

Our bedroom had another beautiful French piece, an antique Louis Philippe rosewood armoire – with its original mirror, sparkly with age. Luckily our wonky shaped Japan bedroom had an area with a raised ceiling or it would not even have fit.

Louis Philippe Rosewood armoire

When we moved to Tokyo originally, our container went at the beginning of summer although I didn’t travel there with the kids until late August. My husband took care of arranging the move in and we slept in our own beds the very first night we got there, which is actually quite unusual. What he didn’t tell me for months afterwards was that in order to get my beloved armoire into the bedroom, it had to be hoisted up through the window. I have to say I was happy to have missed it and just found it safely where it belonged when I arrived. So I went into today knowing that the only way out was the same as the way in and I was dreading it.  Truth be told – and you can watch it on the video yourself – it was a non-event as the movers here are so great.  Although, there are a few moments of drama around minute one.

A much more important truth to tell is that at the end of the day, the only truly precious cargo is the one reflected in the mirror, not the mirror itself.

IMG_1426

But cross your fingers and wish my stuff luck anyway!

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Seto jubako

An absolute favorite of mine, porcelain jubako, stacked tiered food boxes, are harder to come across than more standard porcelain shapes such as plates and bowls. That being true, it hasn’t kept me from accumulating quite a few and helping others do the same. I always refer to them as jubako, but it may be that the porcelain ones should be called danju, while the lacquer ones are officially jubako. Shrine sale dealers call them jubako, so for now I will use the terms interchangeably. Personally I’ve never put food in mine. Instead I like to use them for trinkets on night stands, spices in the kitchen and anywhere you need to stash some small valuables.

In my entryway they hold extra keys to the house and car, buttons and hooks that have fallen off jackets and other odds and ends. Mine are unusual in that they are square, much less common than round ones, and the larger one has lovely scrolled feet. The bright cobalt and densely pigmented karakusa (scrolling arabesque pattern) are typical of Seto porcelain, and although purchased at very different times, seem to have been painted by the same artist.  I have enough Seto ware these days that I can see the hand of distinct artists on certain pieces. As for the cloth dolls on the right, they have their own extraordinary tale to tell and will be featured in an upcoming post for Hinamatsuri or Girls Day.

Seto jubako

Over the years I have helped to put together numerous collections.  It seems once bitten by the jubako bug that one is never enough. They look wonderful grouped together or mixed in with other porcelain. It’s always important to vary shapes and heights as well as the density of pigment and painted motif. This collection of five hand painted Imari jubako has a lovely balance of stylized and naturalistic motifs.

Imari jubako

This collection is used in the bathroom to hold cotton balls, Q-tips, make-up, make-up brushes and jewelry. Again note the variety of height, shape and painting style. The three outer cases are inban, Japanese transferware, while the two center ones are painted in a naturalistic style.

jubako

This trio represents three very different styles and eras and you can see those differences reflected clearly in the various shades of blue pigment.

jubako2

Here jubako are mixed with two geisha pillows, the porcelain neck rests used for preserving elaborate coiffures when lying down. I think there will have to be a post on those in the near future too.

jubako and geisha pillow

Blue and white jubako aren’t the only porcelain types out there.  I have a weakness for the prettily painted Kutani ones. This style of Kutani ware isn’t the densely pigmented and almost brocaded paint commonly associated with the best pieces from that region. (It occurs to me that I have never properly written about Kutani porcelain, so that will be added to my check list for spring.) Instead, they have a soft painterly naturalistic style.  The little sake cup warmer in the center makes a great votive candle holder.

kutani jubako

For all the thousands of ginger jars we see each month in the design press, I have almost never seen jubako featured, other than this one in John Anderson’s New York home.

jubako John Anderson

But recently I spied a lacquer one in this Vincente Wolf designed apartment on the January cover of AD – you can just see it on the table in the center of the room. While I am drawn to the porcelain jubako, the most common material they are made of is lacquer and examples of antique and new ones can be found everywhere.

architectural-digest-january-2013

They are used for traditional osechi ryori (New Year’s food) which is served room temperature in the layered lacquered boxes. For more details on the food in this photo check out Savory Japan.

osechi2012.21

The contents and the containers are things of beauty both!

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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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