by marspillows on December 16, 2010
Ah, the heirlooms of Christmas. Quaint cards with luxurious trim. Fanciful pillows for guests to sign. And scrapbooks with ornate covers.
Treasured gifts from simpler times. Carefully crafted, they used the symbols of Christmas –
both religious and secular — as a motif. Many, such as paper and cardboard cornucopia and baskets, were hung on the tree and filled with candy, tiny tin toys and trinkets.
Fortunately a good number were carefully preserved and survived our throwaway society. While many are no longer fashionable or even functional, they have become part of Christmas tradition and some are sought by serious collectors of Christmas memorabilia.
Among the collectibles are chromolithographed cards sometimes trimmed with fringe and feathers. Made in Germany before World War I, the large, die-cut embossed cards with cutouts can sell for several hundred dollars. But you can still find them in shops for as little as $20. Collectors frame and hang them up for the holidays.
Then, there are the handmade Victorian Christmas cards fashioned from sheets of chromolithographed decals. They can now fetch hundreds of dollars. Other card makers used watercolors and embellished them with red and green tassels.
We pretty much take for granted the ritual of hanging Christmas stockings for Santa to fill. However, not before the publication of A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Moore, in the late 19th Century, did it become part of our Christmas tradition. By the early 20th Century, cotton stockings in red and red and white stripes were commercially manufactured.
Sometimes they were printed with Christmas scenes. One of the most charming I have discovered is doll size and bears a Christmas greeting and “1928″ inscribed in ink. Just before World War II stockings with stenciled Christmas designs were made in Japan.
Homemade Christmas ornaments have been popular since the late 19th Century. Most common were those made by cutting sheets of chromolithograph paper designs, pasting them on star and Christmas-tree-shaped paper or on cotton batting. After a body was formed from the batting, the proper head — Santa’s or an angel’s — was glued on.
The handmade ornaments were often hand-tinted or painted and dusted with mica flakes. By the early 20th Century, the Japanese were manufacturing similar ornaments and exporting them to the United States. Look for a country of origin stamp on the back.
The custom of making and giving Christmas motif japan love pillow, aprons and handkerchiefs was popular beginning in 1900. I recently spotted two Christmas pillows from around 1914 and the 1920s at The Triple Pier Show in New York. One, priced at $165, was a Christmas autograph pillow with blank spaces for holiday party guests to sign their names. Decorating the holiday table required special linens. In their day, the most expensive were damask with religious subjects. By the 1920s, they were apt to be plain white linen or cotton with color-embroidered Christmas cloths and napkins. Or, white on white. The hostess often wore a handmade, Christmas apron she received as a gift. Even baby had a handmade Christmas bib.
by marspillows on December 15, 2010
The 6,500 yen pillow, which has sold 160,000 units, is said to help users relax when they hug it before going to sleep.
The idea of the product was inspired when some consumers told the company that they tend to push their futon between their legs. Long, cylindrical pillows are common in the U.S. and Europe. Lofty decided to come up with shapes that fit the average Japanese physique.
Lofty’s research staff developed more than 10 prototype pillows and monitored the brain waves and blood pressure of sleepers to come up with the most appropriate shape to ensure the greatest comfort possible. After patient efforts, the company finally developed a pillow with dimples and a tail-like end that goes between the sleeper’s legs.
The company initially made only 200 of the product anime pillows buy because it assumed marketers would not want the large pillows to take up too much storage or warehouse space. But a shortage developed as soon as the mass media reported on the pillow. Sales climbed to total 50,000 units in just one year.
Lofty signed up enough subcontractors who could make the pillows in about six months but still consumers had to wait one or two months for delivery.
Most buyers are in their 20s and men outnumber women. The product is particularly popular with people who have back problems or difficulty going to sleep. Many buy the luxury model with a silk covering, priced at 9,500 yen, as a gift, Lofty officials say.
Success, however, breeds copycats, and the company has already sent letters warning a dozen different companies, saying that they are infringing on a copyrighted proprietary design. A lawsuit has been filed against one company.
In September, the company marketed a similar pillow to be used on a couch. The product is based on an earlier design it developed jointly with Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) for use on a bullet train.
The pillow looks like a sea horse. Users can rest their heads on it while cuddling its japanese love pillows.
Though the product has proved to be effective in holding the sleeper’s neck steady and alleviating the impact of train vibrations, JR Tokai thought better of introducing the pillows because they take up too much space and passengers would not want to be seen hugging them.
by marspillows on December 15, 2010
It was known as the Ukiyo, or “Floating World”, a phrase that encompassed the arts of the kabuki theatre, prose fiction, woodblock prints and paintings, but also the round of festivals and fairs, textiles and fashion, the appreciation of nature and the passing seasons, and the living arts of the geisha, courtesan and common prostitute.
“Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking wine, and diverting ourselves in floating, floating, caring not a whit for the pauperism staring us in the face,anime pillows buy” wrote one 17th-century novelist. “This is what we call the floating world.”
Omitted from this list, but high among the pleasures of the Ukiyo, was sex – hence the shunga, as big and important an industry in old Edo as the international pornography business today. With the exception of Hiroshige, all the woodblock print artists best known in the West, including Hokusai and Utamaro, produced dozens of pillow books during their careers.
Their most obvious function was the same as that of contemporary porn, in a city that in the 1730s had no more than 10 women to 17 men. But in stimulating the solitary exertions of lonely Edo men, they also captured the fashions, morals, aesthetics and sense of humour of a lost way of life. In a few ways, shunga share general features of modern porn – for example, in their preoccupation with the clandestine and transgressive. A mere handful of the hundreds of images here depict intercourse between a husband and wife. Shunga are about illicit pleasure – adulterous, commercial, inter-generational and – in the case of the goblins and Hokusai’s famous octo-rape – interspecies.
Scenes of homosexuality, almost always between older and younger men, occur, but casually and unselfconsciously: such encounters seem to have been as commonplace in the samurai era as in Ancient Greece. One of the most disturbing sequences of all depicts the last, tearful coupling of two unhappy “love suicides”, followed by their grimacing corpses on the mattress where they have just slashed their own throats.
But there are plenty of women on top, much tenderness (expressed in the delicate glances of lovers and the poems and speech bubbles that encircle many of the images) – and much straightforward pleasure, female as well as male.
The most striking contrast with our own time is the shunga artists’ almost complete lack of interest in the japanese love pillows of the men and women they depict. There is none of the fetishisation of the flesh, the oppressive cult of the body beautiful, which is intrinsic to contemporaryWestern eroticism. Limbs are slack and podgy, bellies are plump and convex; little is made of breasts or muscles.
Draftsmanship is vague – especially in early pictures it is difficult to tell men and women apart by their faces alone. The skill, passion and ink of the print makers was expended on the single most distinctive feature of shunga – unfeasibly, monstrously, and magnificently large human genitals.
“Some penises are so enormous,” observedtheart historianIngeKlompmakers, in discussing the 11th-century protoshunga, “Phallus Contest”, “that if the men were to stand upright, they would immediately fall forward, dragged down by the weight of their gigantic organs.” Genitalia in shunga – female as well as male – have the same relationship to the real thing as a sabre-toothed tiger to a household kitten.
Like no other visual art, these pictures dramatise the psychological reality of intense sexual arousal, when the whole universe, everything that matters, seems to be concentrated in those inches of engorged flesh. After examining a book like this you will never look at your own, or anyone else’s, in quite the same way again.
Lovers in shunga are, in any case, seldom completely naked; the dishevelment of sashes, hair and kimonos is a recurring visual theme. More than skin, the shunga artists drool over things: the exquisite textiles that were one of the Floating World’s greatest achievements, and the other small accoutrements of life in the brothels, teahouses and homes of Edo – pipes, hair grips, saké cups, teapots, pot plants, musical instruments, samurai armour, children’s toys, decorated screens, paper lamps and mosquito nets.
It is this attention to the real, the sense of everyday life being lived in the background, that elevates these pictures from the level of masturbation aids to the status of true art; and that mouth-watering quality shared by the best Japanese prints – of a visible world made palpable, almost edible, charged with human tenderness, and the joyful relish of being alive.