Sunday, 20 June 2010

shou chiku bai - three friends of winter

pine, bamboo, and plum (ume) blossom. Since ancient times these three plants have been symbols of longevity, friendship, strength, and integrity. Over time they have become common subjects in Chinese and Japanese painting, calligraphy, and textiles, becoming an expression of celebration and joy, especially in the New Year season.

PINE - shou - showing abundant green even in the fiercest of winter they have been a symbol of long life in China since ancient times. They also represent friendship and constancy during times of adversity.

Antique fukusa - embroidered with gold, silver, and silk threads. From the authors collection

BAMBOO - chiku - remains mostly green through the winter. Unlike the pine, however, the stalk of the bamboo is hollow, which came to symbolize tolerance and open-mindedness. The flexibility and strength of the bamboo stalk also came to represent the human values of cultivation and integrity in which one yields but does not break.

Pre WWII fukusa from Ichiroya - woven and embroidered

PLUM (ume) - bai - renowned for bursting into a riot of blossoms in the dead of winter. Its subtle fragrance spills forth at one of the coldest times of the year, making it difficult to go unnoticed. Though not be as striking as the cherry blossom, they manage to exude an otherworldly exquisiteness and beautiful elegance during the desolation of winter. The demeanour and character of the plum tree thereby serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and humble display under adverse conditions.

Antique fukusa from Ichiroya - embroidered

Shou-chiku-bai are found in pictures in every way you can imagine. They are on kimono, futons, carrying cloths, purses, and just about everything to be found in daily life. In Japan the crane and tortoise also symbolise long life, the crane is said to live for 1000 years the tortoise 10,000. Sometimes these characters are combined with shou chiku bai and sometimes, as in the fukusa above, it is combined with other myths and legends.

The fukusa above the crane appears with a rake and broom which symbolize Uba and Ju from the Legend of Takasago.

The JEC and Kurenai kai have a number of designs which feature Shou chiku bai. To finish this post I'd like to share two lovely examples of one of these pieces, Mile High, by two of my fellow Japanese embroidery students Jennifer Orchard and Valerie Brooklyn.