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Crane and Tortoise: Tsuru Kame

Written on September 14, 2011

From time to time I buy old drawstring bags which are made from chirimen or crepe silk and are decorated with hand-pieced images, as this bag is: I am showing the bottom of the bag here.  I’ll admit that often I’m not crazy about this type of bag–there are old Japanese textiles that I like more, for various reasons–but once I displayed the bottom of this bag in my showroom, I found it really, really attractive.I think I like the amateurish rendering of the crane and tortoise  which is called tsuru kame (crane/tortoise) in Japanese.  Tsuru kame is a classic motif, and please allow me to be long-winded here as I quote from the book, “Country Textiles of Japan: The Art of Tsutsugaki” by Reiko Mochinaga Brandon:

By Heian times the crane was associated in art with longevity because of the belief that it lived a thousand years.  The crane was a symbol of good fortune and it was natural that crane designs would become important in the tsutsugaki repertory of motifs.

The tortoise is a constant companion of the crane in story and in art.  According to Chinese legend the tortoise is associated with north, is one of the four sacred animals (together with the dragon, kirin, and phoenix), and is a symbol of stability and good fortune, and lives for ten thousand years.  In ancient China it was widely believed that a tortoise supports the heavens.  It was the carrier of precious things and a messenger of good omen, partiularly the words of gods….Studying the cracks that appear in a heated tortoise shell was a method of divination practiced in China since ancient times.  Perhaps in part because of their connotation of magical knowledge of the future, geometric tortoise-shell patterns have been widely popular in Japanese art.

So there you have it.  Knowing that kind of makes this rustic image a bit more interesting.

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