Friday, June 20, 2014

Got your back, baby!

For a short time when I was a young Catholic, or pretending to be one at any rate, I wore a scapular, two commemorative-postage-stamp sized bits of cloth held together with cords. It hung around my neck, hidden beneath my clothes.  It was supposed to protect me from danger in this world, and shorten my time in purgatory on my way to the next.  I think my scapular contained some microscopic fragment of the garment of a minor saint, not a relic in the class of a remnant of the true cross, but enough of one to make it officially holy.

Scapular memories came rushing back today when I visited the Lixil Gallery in Kyobashi.  On display are semamori (背守り), literally, "back protector," amulets and embroidery that were once routinely affixed to the garments of children to keep them from harm.  The designs themselves were interesting enough, ranging from simple lines of colorful stitching to elaborately carved netsuke-like objects.  But the garments were also gorgeous, particularly the patchwork kimono.  The love and care for the children that the semamori represent was underscored by the exquisite piecing together of remnants of clothing that I imagine was handed down from loving adults.  It's a small show, but every piece in it is a gem.

One curiosity - a thoroughly modern-looking kimono from 1925 bore the roman letters "JOAK."  These were the call letters of NHK's predecessor radio station.  The letters didn't stand for anything in particular - according to the NHK website, O and K were chosen for their "bright sound" and A because it was the first letter of the roman alphabet. The show runs through August 23.  It's a must-see if you love Japanese fabric.

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