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Fukusa (Japan)

An embroidered fukusa, or gift cover, from Japan, early 19th century. An embroidered fukusa, or gift cover, from Japan, early 19th century. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. T.94-1927.

A fukusa is the name for a gift cover that traditionally was draped over a box that was placed on a tray. Inside the box was a gift. The selection of a particular fukusa was always very significant, both to the gift-giver as to the gift-receiver.

The fukusa here illustrated (measuring 92.5 x 70 cm), housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum and dating to the first half of the nineteenth century, is embroidered with the representation of a white elephant being washed by a group of (minute) men. The fukusa is made of silk satin (shu) embroidered with silk and metal thread.

In 1798, according to the V&A online catalogue, two elephants were brought to Japan and one of them was presented to the shogun. They caused a great deal of interest and excitement. The representation here recalls the Japanese allegory of the six blind men trying to describe an elephant, failing hopelessly because none of them can grasp the full animal; compare the famous netsuke in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (acc. no. 10.211.900) showing the six blind men climbing all over the elephant. It dates the the second half of the nineteenth century.

Unlike a furoshiki, a fukusa is not tied over the object.

Sources:

  • JACKSON, Anna (2000). Japanese Textiles. London: V&A Publications, Plate 130, p. 33.
  • TAKEMURA, Akihiko (1991). Fukusa : Japanese Gift Covers. Tokyo: Iwasaki Bijutsu-sha, Plate 108, pp. 272-274.

For a blog on elephants in Japanese art, click here.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 26 June 2016).

WV

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 September 2016 11:10