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Fukusa (袱紗, also written as 帛紗 and 服紗), are a type of Japanese textile used for gift-wrapping or for purifying equipment during a Japanese tea ceremony. Fukusa are square or almost square pieces of lined fabric ranging in size from about 9 inches to 36 inches on a side.
For covering gifts
Traditionally in Japan, gifts were placed in a box on a wooden or lacquer tray, over which a fukusa was draped. The choice of a fukusa appropriate to the occasion was an important part of the gift-giving ritual. The practice of covering a gift became widespread during the Edo or Tokugawa period (1615–1867).
The scene or the motifs depicted on fukusa are chosen to indicate either the occasion for which the gift is being given, or because they are appropriate for one of the annual festivals, when gifts are exchanged. The richness of the decoration of the fukusa attests to the giver’s wealth and aesthetics.
After being admired, a fukusa, along with its box and tray, were typically returned to the donor. However, when gifts were presented to a high official, the fukusa was not always returned. This was one of the subtle devices used to control the wealth of the lords and samurai.
In the first part of the 18th century, the art of the fukusa reflected the taste of the aristocratic minority of Japan: the daimyō and samurai. The subtle cultural references inherent in the designs were recognizable only to the educated members of these classes, who lived and exchanged gifts in the cities of Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) and their surrounding areas. The use of ornamental fukusa in the Edo era was almost entirely confined to these geographic areas.
By the 19th century, the merchant class moved up the social ladder and adopted customs of the aristocracy, including gift giving with fukusa. Family crests, or mon, were added on the lining side of gift covers beginning in the late 18th century and tassels were placed at each corner so the gift covers could be picked up without touching the fabric. Today, fukusa are rarely used, and when they are it is almost exclusively around Tokyo and Kyoto for gifts given at the time of marriage.
In the Edo era, textiles were an integral part of Japanese art. There was no arbitrary division of art into fine arts and decorative arts, as is prevalent in Western art. Eminent artists were commissioned to design textiles and each work was an original creation. Unfortunately, artists seldom signed their work.
Satin silk was the fabric preferred for embroidery, which often made extensive use of couched gold- and silver-wrapped thread . As paste-resist (yuzen) dyeing became popular, crepe (chirimen) silk was favored. Tapestry weave (tsuzure-ori) tapestry also was a popular technique as well as weft brocade (nishiki).
- For example, pine, bamboo and plum blossom. Since the pine and bamboo remain green and the plum tree blooms in winter, they are called the "Three Friends of Winter" and are symbols of constancy and integrity.
- Auspicious birds and beasts
- Mandarin crane ("tsuru") and turtle with trailing tail of algae (minogame) represent longevity and good fortune. Since the fish known in Japanese as “tai” (red sea bream) is part of the word “medetai” (good luck) and is also red in color, it is regarded as the good luck fish of Japan. Since the Asuka and Nara periods (7th-8th century) when Japan was greatly influenced by Chinese culture, dragon and phoenix patterns remained close to the original Chinese style.
- Aristocratic culture
- Legends such as The Tale of Genji and Noh plays. Bamboo curtains, screens, books, imperial carts, fans and other things reminiscent of the Heian period (aristocratic culture) were used as auspicious designs from the Edo period. Games such as the shell- and card-matching games (kai-awase), and fans.
- Folktales and myths
- For example, Urashima Tarō, a Japanese Rip Van Winkle fairytale about a kind fisherman who saves a baby turtle and as a reward is invited to the Dragon’s Sea Palace. After spending three days there, he returns to his village only to discover three hundred years have actually passed. Also, the Tale of Takasago and the storied marriage of Jo and Uba, often represented by pine trees. Filial duty, such as the dutiful son “Moso” digging bamboo shoots in winter to take back to his sick mother.
- Local Gods
- For example, the Shichifukujin, an eclectic group of seven deities from Japan, India, and China.
- Chinese themes
- Confucianism and Taoism. For example, Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, a group of Chinese Taoist philosophers, who gathered in a bamboo grove to talk and drink.
For use in tea ceremony
Fukusa can also refer to several types of silk cloths used in Japanese tea ceremony.
Tsukai fukusa are usually undecorated squares of silk used to ritually purify tea utensils during a temae (tea-making procedure). Those used by men are usually deep purple, while those used by women are usually red or orange. Other colours are sometimes used, as are fukusa decorated with images.
Dashi fukusa are larger squares of silk with various patterns used by hosts and guests to handle chawan (tea bowls) during certain temae, usually those involving the making of thick tea, in some tea traditions.
Ko-bukusa are small squares of brocaded silk used by hosts and guests to handle chawan during certain temae, usually those involving the making of thick tea, in some schools of Japanese tea ceremony instead of dashi fukusa.
- Fukusa, The Shojiro Nomura Fukusa Collection, by Mary Hays and Ralph Hays, 1983 (Mills College). This book (8½ × 8½"), 106 pages long, is a detailed study of Edo period (18th and early 19th century) Fukusa (gift covers), published by the Mills College Art Gallery in connection with its exhibition of the same title.
- Fukusa, the Gift Cover – the Beauty of Exchanging Gifts catalog for show organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture for the fukusa exhibit at the Museum of Kyoto, August 24 – September 8, 1991.
- Fukusa, Japanese Gift Covers", by Takemura, Akihiko. Limited edition published in 1991 by Iwasaki Bijutsu-sha, Tokyo. ISBN 4-7534-1325-X C1072. 311 pages with 116 illustrations.
- "Fukusa: Textile Gift Covers", by Peter Sinton Spring 2007 Daruma Magazine (issue 54). Cover story – 17 pages with 43 color photographs. http://www.darumamagazine.com/new/2008/03/09/daruma-issue-54-spring-2007/
- Fukusa: Silk, Gold and the World's Most Elegant Return Receipt, catalog for exhibit at Orientations Gallery in New York, 1990.
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