Friday, 10 August 2007

Treasures - Takarazukushi

A number of motifs in Japanese embroidery have symbolic meanings, this blog article covers those known as takarazukushi or ‘treasures’.

Sometimes a number of treasures will be used, as on Michinaga which can be seen in the phase 6-9 gallery of our gallery, sometimes only one or two. Treasures may be combined with other ‘happy’ motifs which are used to reinforce the message of the design; pine, bamboo, plum, tortoise, or cranes (amongst others) are often seen.

The treasures listed below are not a complete list, indeed the meanings of some items have been lost, and occasionally a new treasure will be added. Master Tamura of JEC Atlanta has included spools of silk as a treasure in some of his designs, these are the Japanese embroiderer’s treasures.

There are seven traditional treasures; the bottomless purse, mallet, magic sedge hat, ball (sometimes shown with flames), straw rain cape, balance-scale weight, and the storehouse key. Some of the other commonly used treasures are; rhinoceros horn, silk, cross, cloves, and scrolls.


  • Swinging the magic mallet will make dreams come true
  • The hat and rain cape make the wearer invisible
  • The magic ball will grant wishes when rubbed
  • In order to protect their gold from theft samurai would have it cast into the shape of a balance weight which, because of it’s symmetrical shape, meant that no part of it could be stolen without detection
  • Scrolls represent the value of knowledge
  • Rhinoceros horn was valued as a medicine
  • Silk, originally rare and very expensive
  • The cross is used as a symbol of expansiveness
  • Cloves were valued for their rarity and its many uses as a sent, flavouring, dyestuff, and medicine
  • The key represents a kura, a stone storehouse built to protect valuables from fire or theft
  • Interlocking circles form a ‘shippo’ pattern often seen in Japanese embroidery and can be used as shorthand for treasures.
Takarabune means 'treasure ship'. It is a symbol of good tidings and blessing to come, it is normally shown carrying a cargo of treasures.
The embroidered Meiji fukusa (top) and vintage woven fukusa shown here are from www.ichiroya.com. Many thanks to Ichiro san and Yuka san for allowing them to be used. To see other items which are decorated with treasures visit their website and do a search for treasures.
For more information John Marshall has an interesting article on his website.