Haruki Murakami Has Created New T-Shirts Featuring Words & Imagery from Norwegian Wood, 1Q84 and More

Haruki Murakami is a novelist, but for some time his name has been no less a global brand than, say, Uniqlo’s. Though both the man and the clothing company happen to have come into existence in Japan in 1949, this comparison goes beyond mere nationality. In their homeland, both Uniqlo and Murakami came into their own in the 1980s, the decade when the former opened its first casual-wear shop and the latter published the name-making A Wild Sheep Chase and the cultural phenomenon that was Norwegian Wood. Having assiduously cultivated markets outside Japan, both have become internationally known in the 21st century: just as Uniqlo now has shops all over the world, Murakami’s books have been translated into at least 50 languages.

Therefore, perhaps Murakami and Uniqlo’s convergence was only a matter of time. “Haruki Murakami and Uniqlo have teamed up for a line of T-shirts inspired by the author’s novels like Norwegian Wood and 1Q84, as well as his radio program,” writes Spoon & Tamago’s Johnny Waldman.

With graphics contributed by sources like illustrator and frequent Murakami collaborator Masaru Fujimoto, “the collection showcases the world of his masterpiece novels, his love for music, and of course cats.” The reverse of the Murakami Radio shirt, seen at the top of the post, even features this unambiguous quotation of the man himself: “Books, music, and cats have been my friends from way back.”

More than a few of Murakami’s fans could no doubt say the same. They’ll also delight in the nuances of the words and images on the seven other Murakami shirts Uniqlo has created for sale from March 15th. Many have read Norwegian Wood, but relatively few will notice that Uniqlo’s shirt based on that book comes in the very same red-and-green color scheme as its two-volume Japanese first edition. Far from drawing only on the popularity of such big hits, the collection also pays tribute to Murakami’s lesser-known works: his sophomore effort Pinball, 1973, for instance, which went without a major English translation for 35 years.

Still unpublished outside Asia are most of Murakami’s essays, which he’s been writing on music, food, travel, and a variety of other subjects nearly as long as he’s been a novelist. But this November, Knopf will publish Murakami T: The T-Shirts I Love, a book documenting his impressive collection including T-shirts “from The Beach Boys concert in Honolulu to the shirt that inspired the beloved short story ‘Tony Takitani,'” all “accompanied by short, frank essays that have been translated into English for the first time.” Writing essays or fiction, whatever the language in which they appear, Murakami’s work remains broadly appealing yet distinctively his own, belonging at once everywhere and nowhere in the world — more than a bit, come to think of it, like Uniqlo’s clothing. On March 15, purchase the shirts online here.

via Spoon & Tamago

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Vintage Literary T-Shirts

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Color That May Have Killed Napoleon: Scheele’s Green

“Either the wallpaper goes, or I do.” —Oscar Wilde

Looking to repel bed bugs and rats?

Decorate your bedroom à la Napoleon’s final home on the damp island of Saint Helena.

Those in a position to know suggest that vermin shy away from yellowish-greens such as that favored by the Emperor because they “resemble areas of intense lighting.”

We’d like to offer an alternate theory.

Could it be that the critters’ ancestors passed down a cellular memory of the perils of arsenic?

Napoleon, like thousands of others, was smitten with a hue known as Scheele’s Green, named for Carl Wilhelm Scheele, the German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist who discovered oxygen, chlorine, and unfortunately, a gorgeous, toxic green pigment that’s also a cupric hydrogen arsenite.

Scheele’s Green, aka Schloss Green, was cheap and easy to produce, and quickly replaced the less vivid copper carbonate based green dyes that had been in use prior to the mid 1770s.

The color was an immediate hit when it made its appearance, showing up in artificial flowers, candles, toys, fashionable ladies’ clothing, soap, beauty products, confections, and wallpaper.

A month before Napoleon died, he included the following phrase in his will: My death is premature. I have been assassinated by the English oligopoly and their hired murderer…”

His exit at 51 was indeed untimely, but perhaps the wallpaper, and not the English oligopoly, is the greater culprit, especially if it was hung with arsenic-laced paste, to further deter rats.

When Scheele’s Green wallpaper, like the striped pattern in Napoleon’s bathroom, became damp or moldy, the pigment in it metabolized, releasing poisonous arsenic-laden vapors.

Napoleon’s First Valet Louis-Joseph Marchand recalled the “childish joy” with which the emperor jumped into the tub where he relished soaking for long spells:

The bathtub was a tremendous oak chest lined with lead. It required an exceptional quantity of water, and one had to go a half mile away and transport it in a barrel.

Baths also figured in Second Valet Louis Étienne Saint-Denis‘ recollections of his master’s illness:

His remedies consisted only of warm napkins applied to his side, to baths, which he took frequently, and to a diet which he observed from time to time.

Saint-Denis’s recall seems to have had some lacunae. According to a post in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History’s Power of Poison exhibit:

In Napoleon’s case, arsenic was likely just one of many compounds taxing an already troubled system. In the course of treatments for a variety of symptoms—swollen legs, abdominal pain, jaundice, vomiting, weakness—Napoleon was subjected to a smorgasbord of other toxic substances. He was said to consume large amounts of a sweet apricot-based drink containing hydrocyanic acid. He had been given tarter emetic, an antimonal compound, by a Corsican doctor. (Like arsenic, antimony would also help explain the preserved state of his body at exhumation.) Two days before his death, his British doctors gave him a dose of calomel, or mercurous chloride, after which he collapsed into a stupor and never recovered. 

As Napoleon was vomiting a blackish liquid and expiring, factory and garment workers who handled Scheele’s Green dye and its close cousin, Paris Green, were suffering untold mortifications of the flesh, from hideous lesions, ulcers and extreme gastric distress to heart disease and cancer.

Fashion-first women who spent the day corseted in voluminous green dresses were keeling over from skin-to-arsenic contact. Their seamstresses’ green fingers were in wretched condition.

In 2008, an Italian team tested strands of Napoleon’s hair from four points in his life—childhood, exile, his death, and the day thereafter. They determined that all the samples contained roughly 100 times the arsenic levels of contemporary people in a control group.

Napoleon’s son and wife, Empress Josephine, also had noticeably elevated arsenic levels.

Had we been alive and living in Europe back then, ours likely would have been too.

All that green!

But what about the wallpaper?

A scrap purportedly from the dining room, where Napoleon was relocated shortly before death, was found by a woman in Norfolk, England, pasted into a family scrapbook above the handwritten caption, This small piece of paper was taken off the wall of the room in which the spirit of Napoleon returned to God who gave it.

In 1980, she contacted chemist David Jones, whom she had recently heard on BBC Radio discussing vaporous biochemistry and Victorian wallpaper. She agreed to let him test the scrap using non-destructive x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. The result?

.12 grams of arsenic per square meter. (Wallpapers containing 0.6 to 0.015 grams per square meter were determined to be hazardous.)

Dr. Jones described watching the arsenic levels peaking on the lab’s print out as “a crazy, wonderful moment.” He reiterated that the house in which Napoleon was imprisoned was “notoriously damp,” making it easy for a 19th century fan to peel off a souvenir in “an inspired act of vandalism.”

Death by wallpaper and other environmental factors is definitely less cloak and dagger than assassination by the English oligopoly, hired murderer, and other conspiracy theories that had thrived on the presence of arsenic in samples of Napoleon’s hair.

As Dr. Jones recalled:

…several historians were upset by my claim that it was all an accident of decor…Napoleon himself feared he was dying of stomach cancer, the disease which had killed his father; and indeed his autopsy revealed that his stomach was very damaged. It had at least one big ulcer…My feeling is that Napoleon would have died in any case. His arsenical wallpaper might merely have hastened the event by a day or so. Murder conspiracy theorists will have to find new evidence! 

We can’t resist mentioning that when the emperor was exhumed and shipped back to France, 19 years after his death, his corpse showed little or no decomposition.

Green continues to be a noxious color when humans attempt to reproduce it in the physical realm. As Alice Rawthorn observed The New York Times:

The cruel truth is that most forms of the color green, the most powerful symbol of sustainable design, aren’t ecologically responsible, and can be damaging to the environment.

Take a deeper dive into Napoleon’s wallpaper with an educational packet for educators prepared by chemist David Jones and Hendrik Ball.

via Messy Nessy

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A 400-Year-Old Ring that Unfolds to Track the Movements of the Heavens

Rings with discreet dual purpose have been in use since before the common era, when Hannibal, facing extradition, allegedly ingested the poison he kept secreted behind a gemstone on his finger. (More recently, poison rings gave rise to a popular Game of Thrones fan theory…)

Victorians prevented their most closely kept secrets—illicit love letters, perhaps? Last wills and testaments?—from falling into the wrong hands by wearing the keys to the boxes containing these items concealed in signet rings and other statement-type pieces.

A tiny concealed blade could be lethal on the finger of a skilled (and no doubt, beautiful) assassin. These days, they might be used to collect a bit of one’s attacker’s DNA.

Enter the fictional world of James Bond, and you’ll find a number of handy dandy spy rings including one that doubles as a camera, and another capable of shattering bulletproof glass with a single twist.

Armillary sphere rings like the ones in the British Museum’s collection and the Swedish Historical Museum (top) serve a more benign purpose. Folded together, the two-part outer hoop and three interior hoops give the illusion of a simple gold band. Slipped off the wearer’s finger, they can fan out into a physical model of celestial longitude and latitude.

Art historian Jessica Stewart writes that in the 17th century, rings such as the above specimen were “used by astronomers to study and make calculations. These pieces of jewelry were considered tokens of knowledge. Inscriptions or zodiac symbols were often used as decorative elements on the bands.”

The armillary sphere rings in the British Museum’s collection are made of a soft high alloy gold.

Jewelry-loving modern astronomers seeking an old school finger-based calculation tool that really works can order armillary sphere rings from Brooklyn-based designer Black Adept.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Make a Savile Row Suit: A Short Documentary from the Museum of Modern Art

Savile Row is unfashionable. This, of course, is its great strength: not for nothing does that London street stand as the last word in timeless tailoring. Since at least the early 19th century, men have gone to Savile Row not just to commission handmade suits from their favorite shops, but to participate in as many fittings as necessary throughout the process of bringing those suits ever closer to perfection. The result, over decades and indeed generations of regular patronage, is the cultivation of not fashion but style. Even so, Savile Row figures in the Museum of Modern Art’s online course Fashion as Design, whose videos on the making of a bespoke three-piece suit you can see here.

It all happens at Anderson & Sheppard, a fixture on the Row since 1906. In the first video, “behind a drawn curtain, a master cutter” — whose job includes not just cutting the cloth but interacting with the client — “takes an initial series of 27 measurements: 20 for the jacket, 7 for the trousers. From these measurements, the cutter fashions a pattern in heavy brown paper.”

We then see the cloth cut to this pattern, “and the many pieces of fabric are rolled for each garment into tiny packages, which await the tailors.” The second, which begins in the back of the house, shows how these tailors “receive their bundles of fabric and set about deciphering the cutter’s notes. Three weeks after a client’s measurements have been taken, his suit will be ready for a first fitting.”

Emphasis on “first”: though the young man being fitted here only appears for one session, some bespoke suits can require two, three, or more, worn each time as a wearable rough draft held together with bright white thread and marked up for later correction. This reflects not the tailor’s inability to get it right the first time, but the rigorous desire of the Savile Row habitué for an ideal fit. (Anderson & Sheppard’s list of former clients include such notoriously perfectionist dressers as Fred Astaire, Bryan Ferry, and Prince Charles.) Watching this process from start finish underscores the truth of those famous words, “The difference between style and fashion is quality” — famous words spoken by no less a detractor of Savile Row than Giorgio Armani, but true ones nonetheless.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How Levi’s 501 Jeans Became Iconic: A Short Documentary Featuring John Baldessari, Henry Rollins, Lee Ranaldo & More

In his memoir Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere, the American Japanologist John Nathan remembers evenings in the 1960s spent with Yukio Mishima, whose work he translated into English. “I listened raptly as he recited passages from The Tale of the Heike that revealed the fierceness and delicacy of Japan’s warrior-poets, or showed me the fine calibration of the Chinese spectrum,” Nathan writes. “One night he stood up abruptly from behind his desk, asked me to wait a minute, and left the room. When he came back he had changed into a pair of blue jeans and a thick black leather belt. He explained that he had been sandpapering the jeans to make them identical to the pair Marlon Brando had worn in The Wild One.”

Even a figure like Mishima, who within a few years would die in an ultranationalistic ritual suicide after a hopeless attempted coup, felt the allure of American blue jeans. Though Nathan doesn’t note whether Mishima’s pair were genuine Levi’s 501s, the exacting standards to which Mishima held himself in all respects would seem to demand that measure of authenticity.

“Authenticity,” of course, is a quality from which Levi Strauss & Co. have drawn a great deal of value for their brand, their signature riveted denim product going back as it does nearly a century and a half, to a time when rugged pants were in great demand from the miners of California’s gold rush. But it was in the economically flush and newly media-saturated decades after the Second World War that jeans took their hold on the American imagination, and soon on the world’s.

The pants, the myth, and the legend star in The 501 Jean: Stories of an Original, a threepart series of short documentaries produced by Levi’s themselves and narrated by American folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Its gallery of 501-wearers includes such job titles as Musician, Photographer, Garmentologist, Biker, Creative Director, Music/Style Consultant, and Urban Cowboy. Conceptual artist John Baldessari discusses the childhood love of cowboy shows that lodged jeans permanently into his worldview. Album designer Gary Burden brings out his own work, a copy of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, to demonstrate the impact of jeans on popular music. That both Burden and Baldessari have passed away since these videos’ production underscores the current fast departure of the generations who took jeans from the realm of the utilitarian into that of the iconic — some of whose members have doubtless chosen to be buried in their 501s.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Five Minute Museum: A Stop Motion Animation Shows the History of Civilization at Breakneck Speed

Experimental director and animator Paul Bush‘s 2015 short film The Five-Minute Museum, above, is the dizzying antidote to standing, footsore, in front of a vitrine crowded with Ancient Greek amphoras or exquisitely crafted pocket watches and wondering, not about history, culture or the nature of time, but whether you can justify spending $15 for an underwhelming cheese and tomato sandwich in the museum cafe.

It’s a breakneck stop motion journey through the history of civilization via six museum collections—three in London and three in Switzerland.

Presented primarily as stills that flash by at a rate of 24 per second, Bush groups like objects together, “thereby allowing the triumphs of human endeavor to be seen even in far corners of the land, by the bedridden, the infirm and the lazy.”

His sense of humor asserts itself the minute an assortment of ancient shards appear to render themselves into not just a state of wholeness, but an entire up close society in close-up. It doesn’t take long for these vessels’ clashing of warriors to give way to a composite portrait of idle youth, whose flirtations are stoked by a number of manic pipers in rapid succession, and Andy Cowton’s original music and sound design.

It’s a shock when Bush slows down and pulls back to show the source objects in their museum cases, quiet as a tomb, the sort of display most visitors blow past en route to something sexier, like a dinosaur or a blockbuster exhibit requiring timed entry tickets.

Other highlights include a lively assortments of guns, hats, chairs, and plastic toys.

If you start feeling overwhelmed by the visual intensity, don’t worry. Bush builds in a bit of a breather once you hit the clocks, the bulk of which presumably hail from the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum in Zurich.

The ingenious animated short was 10 years in the making, a fact the artist modestly downplays:

It’s very simple. Simple story, a simple technique and that’s what I like. Poetry should be a little bit stupid. This is what Pushkin says, and I try and make my films a little bit stupid as well.

In addition to the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum, you’ll find the featured artifacts housed in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’s Museum of the Home (formerly known as the Geffrye Museum) as well as the Lucerne Historical Museum and the Bern Historical Museum.

Expect a much slower experience.

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Help yourself to her free downloadable poster series, encouraging citizens to wear masks. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Japanese Traditions of Sashiko & Boro: The Centuries-Old Craft That Mends Clothes in a Sustainable, Artistic Way

The state of our troubled planet dictates that disposables are out.

Reusables are in.

And anyone who’s taught themselves how to mend and maintain their stuff has earned the right to flaunt it!

A quick scroll through Instagram reveals loads of visible mending projects that highlight rather than disguise the area of repair, drawing the eye to contrasting threads reinforcing a threadbare knee, frayed cuff, ragged rip, or moth hole.

While some practitioners take a freeform approach, the most pleasing stitches tend to be in the sashiko tradition.

Sashiko—frequently translated as “little stabs”—was born in Edo period Japan (1603-1868), when rural women attempted to prolong the life of their families’ tattered garments and bedding, giving rise to a humble form of white-on-indigo patchwork known as boro.

While sashiko can at times be seen serving a purely decorative function, such as on a very well preserved Meiji period jacket in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, its primary use was always one born of necessity.

As Austin Bryant notes on Heddels, a news and education website dedicated to sustainable goods:

Over generations of families, these textiles would acquire more and more patches, almost to the point of the common observer being unable to recognize where the original fabric began. As they recovered after the end of World War II, to some the boro textiles reminded the Japanese of their impoverished rural past.

Keiko & Atsushi Futatsuya are a mother-and-son artisan team whose posts on sashiko and boro go beyond straightforward how-tos to delve into cultural history.

According to them, the goal of sashiko should not be aesthetically pleasing rows of uniform stitches, but rather “enjoying the dialogue” with the fabric.

As Atsushi explains in an Instagram post, viewers seeing their work with a Western perspective may respond differently than those who have grown up with the elements in play:

This is a photo of a “Boro-to-be Jacket” in the process. This is the back (hiding) side of the jacket and many non-Japanese would say this should be the front and should show to the public. The Japanese would understand why it is a backside naturally, but I would need to “explain” to the non-Japanese who do not share the same value (why we) purposefully make this side as “hiding” side. That’s why, I keep sharing in words. One picture may be worth a thousand words, but the thousand words may be completely different based on their (free) interpretation. In sharing the culture, some “actual words” would be also very important.

To try your hand at sashiko, you will need a long needle, such as a cotton darning needle, white embroidery thread, and—for boro—an aging textile in need of some attention.

Should you find yourself sliding into a full blown obsession, you may want to order sashiko needles and thread, and a palm thimble to help you push through several weights of fabric simultaneously.

You’ll find many patterns, tips, and tutorials on the Futatsuya family’s Sashi.co YouTube channel.

via Vox

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold 19th-Century Japanese Firemen’s Coats, Richly Decorated with Mythical Heroes & Symbols

Some firemen today may complain about the boredom of all the time spent doing nothing at the station between calls, but when the hour comes to do battle with a serious blaze, no one can say they have it easy. Firefighting has, of course, never been a particularly relaxed gig, especially back in the days before not just water cannon-equipped helicopters, and not just fire engines, but fire hoses as we know them today. Putting out urban conflagrations without much water at hand is one thing, but imagine having to do it every day in a densely packed, highly flammable city like Tokyo — or rather Edo, as it was known between the early 17th and mid-19th centuries.

“Fires were frequent during this period because of crowded living conditions and wooden buildings, and the firefighters’ objective was to prevent a burning house from spreading its flames to the neighboring residences,” writes Antique Trader’s Kris Manty. With only weak water pumps at their disposal, Edo firemen “did not save the home, but rather tore down the burning structure and extinguished the fire. They did this by using long poles and other fire implements to demolish the blazing house and once the fire was doused, the surrounding homes were once again safe.” In peacetime they “emerged as latter-day samurai heroes, with the motto, ‘duty, sympathy and endurance'” — and bedecked in truly glorious handmade coats.

“Each firefighter in a given brigade was outfitted with a special reversible coat (hikeshi banten), plain but for the name of the brigade on one side and decorated with richly symbolic imagery on the other,” says the Public Domain Review, where you can behold a gallery of such garments.

“These coats would be worn plain-side out and thoroughly soaked in water before the firefighters entered the scene of the blaze. No doubt the men wore them this way round to protect the dyed images from damage, but they were probably also concerned with protecting themselves, as they went about their dangerous work, through direct contact with the heroes and creatures represented on the insides of these beautiful garments.”

At the top of the post appears an example of an Edo fireman’s coat held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one emblazoned with imagery from perhaps the best-known Japanese fable of all. “The center of this coat shows Momotaro, a legendary boy born from a peach, stomping on an ogre,” says the museum’s web site. “The smoke billowing behind him reminds us of the use of this coat, as does the fireman’s hook pictured on the left sleeve. After their duty, firemen reversed their coats to display the bold and inspiring designs.” As with many prominent figures of the age, Edo firefighters were also immortalized, coats and all, in ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

The noble image is not least thanks to the fact, writes Artelino’s Dieter Wanczura, that “the great master Hiroshige I was the son of a fire warden in the service of the shogunate,” and indeed a firefighter himself, keeping the job years into his printmaking career. The prints featured there include one depicting an 1805 clash “between sumo wrestlers and fire-fighters at Shinmei shrine,” not an entirely unexpected occurrence given the rowdy public image of the kind of men who joined fire brigades. But “the average Japanese always cherished a liking for what they considered to be honorable bandits and outcasts” — and who today, anywhere in the world, could argue with their style?

via the Public Domain Review

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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