Shouki 鍾馗様

I bought my first set of Boys Day decorations when I was in fourth grade.

For those of you old enough and familiar enough with Sacramento to remember back before Highway 80 cut through town and wiped out a large part of Japantown, there was a wonderful store on P Street called Yorozu, run by the Okada brothers. I remember getting on the bus to take the long ride into town by myself, with my jeans pocket full of what seemed to me to be a small fortune in money earned from mowing lawns. I still remember the intoxicating sandalwood-like smell of the store and the exotic treasures on display.  Eugene Okada was very patient with me, letting me look at everything and  pose questions whenever I could find the gumption.

Shouki FaceI went home with my first set of miniature nobori and a shiny suit of armor with a prancing dragon on the helmet. The center banner had a wonderful image of a scowling character, with wild hair and bushy eyebrows. His name is Shoki (鍾馗様) and he is patron saint of students and civil servants.

Since then I have enjoyed collecting other images and dolls representing Shoki.  It seems that Shoki was a very good student and studied hard to become a physician in ancient China. The most common story has it that he passed his exams in flying colors but was considered too ugly to work in the court and committed suicide in disgrace. I heard a slightly different story as a child, and it is still the one I prefer.

Shouki Noboribata with Demon in Flight

Shoki came from a very poor but honest household. China was the first civilization to have civil-service exams for its citizens, and Shoki worked diligently to earn his spot. The night before the exams were to take place some roving oni (鬼 small demons) came upon him slumped over his desk, exhausted from his studies. They decided to pull a prank on him and set about disfiguring him horribly. When he showed up to take the exams he was barred from the hall by the indignant officials, ending all chances of becoming the physician he longed to be.  Not long after that Shoki died in sadness and defeat, but he vowed to take his revenge on the oni in the next life. It is for this reason he is called the Demon Killer and is almost always shown with a scholar’s cap and an eye out for the mischievous oni. Shoki has become the protector of students who diligently apply themselves to their lessons, as well as civil servants. I like to give him as a gift to friends battling cancer or other challenges to help in fighting their demons as they confront them.

For this week’s Treasure from John’s Collection, I have chosen two of my favorite Shoki noboribata. The first, shown above and right has a very regal, no-nonsense sort of look to him, bent on his mission to systematically rid

“Oh, no you di’n’t!”

the cosmos of this plague. And the second, to the left, somehow seems a bit less high-brow, but no less serious. With that face and posture, can’t you almost imagine his saying, “Oh, no you di’n’t!

While the first image has the oni clearly in view, in the second image we can just imagine by his focus where the oni is located.

Both are dressed in the Japanese-imagined version of how he would have been dressed in ancient times across the sea.

Each banner is designed to be seen from both sides and so are painted to match identically.  Both banners have been hand painted with no use of rice paste resist or other aid to the dye process. Natural minerals have been used as the dyes–primarily sumi (墨 lamp black), ai (藍 indigo), gunjou (cobalt 群青), and bengara (iron 弁柄 ). In my dyework I always mix soy milk as a binding agent. This keeps the pigments from crocking (rubbing off), but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

If we take a close look at the akaoni (赤鬼 red demon) depicted in the first image (see detail below), you’ll notice how the dyes seem to look a bit uneven through wear. This is what crocking will do. Even though the dyes will hold up well to outdoor abuse, it would not be wise to wash them.

Iron rust pigments and lamp black pigments are visibly sitting on the surface of the hand-woven cotton.

By the way, the store Yorozu moved to a new location after closing on P Street. They are now located on Riverside Blvd. at Broadway, an still have many treasures to offer.

If you are not familiar with using soy milk and pigments, you may want to take a look at Salvation through Soy, a booklet describing its use. Just click on this text.

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Ori 織り

If you are reading my blog, then you are probably interested in textiles. With that in mind, I’d like to go a basic term you may come across often: ori.

Weave 織る

Oru (織る) means to weave, ori (織り) means a weave.
For example, kinran wo oru (金襴を織る) means to weave kinran. Whereas, kinran-ori (金襴織り) means kinran weave.

aya-ori (綾織り) means twill weave
(繻子織り) means satin weave
(平織り) means flat weave
karami-ori (絡織り) means leno weave
(綴織り) means tapestry weave.

ori-mono (織物) means things that are woven (or weaves)
hata-ori (機織り) means loom weaving
hata-ori-gyou (機織り業) means weaving industry
hata-ori-ki (機織り機) means a weaving loom
and just for fun- hata-ori-mushi (機織り虫) is a kind of grasshopper.

The above illustrates one of very convenient aspects of the Japanese language in that it is often possible to turn a verb into a noun and vise versa with just a slight change in pronunciation.

The verb oru (織る), to weave is one such example. Keep in mind that the Japanese language is based on a Japanese way of thinking, and a Japanese experience. It has nothing to do with Western language traditions. So let’s start by looking at the Japanese way of writing the word: 織る. You can see that it is made up of two basic components–first the Chinese character, or kanji (漢字), followed by one of the letters of the Japanese pheonetic alphabet, called kana (かな).

Oh, dear, I can see that this may get complicated…well, let’s just go for it!

This group of letters, kana, make up the fifty sounds of the Japanese language. Each is its own sound and each with equal value. So the word for to weave has two sounds: “o” (織) and “ru” (る). (From an English point of view, isn’t it curious that the character using only one letter of our alphabet is the more complex of the two?) So even though the first character, kanji, has a gazillion lines to it, and the second one only a long squiggly one, from a sound point of view they are equal–each is one sound bite.

In Japanese verbs have what are called verb endings. The last sound bite in a verb changes its sound depending on what is happening in its neighborhood. And they do follow rules. One of the handiest rules is that all verbs will end in  う(u), く(ku), す(su), つ(tsu), ぬ(nu), ふ(fu), む(mu), ゆ(yu), る(ru)  (notice how they each have an “u” sound from an English point of view?) if you want to find them in a dictionary.  If you want to change a verb to a noun, often you can get away with changing the ending to い(i), き(ki), し(shi), ち(chi), に(ni), ひ(hi), み(mi), or り(ri).

Following this plan we can change 織る(oru) to 織り(ori), that is, to weave to a weave. We can change 踊る(odoru) to 踊り(odori), or to dance to a dance. 響く(hibiku) and 響き(hibiki), to echo and an echo. Remember a couple of blogs back when we sent from noboru to nobori?

There other sets of rules to be saved for another time…

Kinran 金襴 201104


Kinran is one of the many specialty fabrics woven in the Nishijin District of Kyoto. This particular yardage was never used and came to me as a full, pristine bolt.

The beginning of the bolt has a section woven into it stating that the flat threads are leafed in pure gold (本金箔)

Label Woven Into the Bolt with Gold Threads

and the rounded threads are wrapped in pure gold (本金絲).

Portion of Label Appearing on Front of Yardage

It bears the  seal of the Nishijin Industry Association (西陣工業組合) certifying (品質表示証紙) that it is woven in pure silk throughout (絹100%属糸等使用),

Portion of Label Appearing on Back of Yardage

and is the proper yardage for a fukuro-obi (袋帯). The serial number is 2326.


A small stick-on label tell us that the coded name for the particular weaving house is 6005, ten of these obi were woven, that it was woven by a person named Oka, or whose last name begins with Oka- (岡), and it was inspected by Tamoto (田本).

Manufacturer’s Information

You may see on the back of the sample that the flat gold-leafed threads are gilded on both sides, as opposed to the kinran seen in sample 201103 of this series, which is gilded on one side only.

Front Detail–Notice the :Greek Key” pattern in the background.

Back Detail–Some of the wrapped gold threads float across the back.

Silk Strand Wrapped in Gold

To the left is a microscopic view of the silk wrapped in gold as seen meandering diagonally in the detail of the back of the yardage above.

Silk and Gold Wrapper Teased Apart

And the same strand teased to separate the silk and the gold.

The red edge to the flat layer is the edge of the cut paper to which the gold is laminated. The fibrous texture of the paper may also be seen to the inside of the gold tube in the enlargement to the right.

Without viewing the actually gold and silk woven sample, it is difficult to appreciate the wondrous quality of how the light reflects so differently off the mirror-like

Silk Strands Woven in Conjunction with Gold-Wrapped Strands

surface of the flat stands of gold, the sparkle of the wrapped gold, and the luster of the bright blue silk filaments. This creates a very dynamic show.

Detail of Silk Strands Woven with Flat Gold–Notice the blue silk strand running parallel to the flat gold strand as part of the weave structure.

$18 plus tax, postage

($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)


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Shouki Banner W-431

Shouki by John Marshall, natural dyes on silk

I’m very fond of the Shouki (鍾馗様) imagery and have tried my hand a few times at capturing his expressive face. This week I would like to share with you one such piece.

This Shouki’s face is actually modeled after someone I have come to know. I was in a situation where suddenly this person loomed large and threatening. I think the oni got into me with their mischief, because as soon as I turned and noticed him glowering down at me I burst out laughing–I honestly couldn’t help it! He reminded me so much of a Shouki figure with wild crimson hair, bulging eyes, and flaring nostrils. I don’t think anyone had ever reacted to his threat that way before–a confused look came over his face and he walked away… Shouki, I guess I owe you one!

Detail of Garment Patterning

I went about dyeing this image by first sketching the whole image on the silk with aobana (blueflower  青花). Aobana is a very useful, fugitive dye. It disappears on contact with water making it great for this kind of designing. Satisfied with the overall movement of the sketch, I added soymilk to my indigo and began to paint, much as I would if doing sumi-e (墨絵) painting. Since I sized the silk before hand with soymilk, I wasn’t worried about the dye wicking along the weave. In the detail above, are you able to see what should appear to be the shadows of the folds in the cloth? And the darker lines, too? These were painted on with a fude-style brush.

Once all of my shadows and outlines are thoroughly dried and cured, a process requiring a couple of weeks, I’m ready for the challenging part. My goal is to create the impression of a luxurious kinran garment. To accomplish this I will need highly detailed, figurative patterning and the control to blend and shade colors creating a sense of luster in the folds. Stencils are perfect for just this purpose.

Headdress Dyed to Imitate a Ro Weave (絽織)

By blocking out most of the background–all of the non-garment portions of my banner–I am able to lay my stencil on the silk and apply the rice paste resist with precision. Over this I apply my dyes blending them as I progress. Additional shadows are layered over the new colors to echo the shadows painted along the silk folds beneath. After a proper curing period the paste is washed off exposing the patterning as you see it in the detail above right. I went through similar steps to mimic a ro (gauze/leno 絽織) weave for Shouki’s head gear, above left.

Shoki wih His No-Nonsense Attitude

The last step is the most dramatic in which layers upon layers of dyes are built up as Shouki’s personality is expressed in his bulging eyes, pronounced veins, and bristled hair.

Full Image of Shouki Banner

Where are the oni?

I’ve included two. The first is not quite aware of Shouki’s presence as he peeks out from the clouds, and the other is at Shouki’s feet, hiding in my signature.

Oni Disguised as Signature Stamp

Click on any of the images above to be taken to my web site with more views.

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