Genuinely Japan

Is there anything more gratifying than finding unexpected gems at the thrift store? Suddenly you’re Howard Carter cracking open King Tut’s tomb!

If you happen to live somewhere a bit more high density than Perth, such as the UK or USA (or let’s face it, even Melbourne), finding cool shit might not be that hard. But here in Perth pickings can sometimes feel a little bit thin.

So when Monique and I were out scouring our local Salvos (the ‘Salvation Army’ for those of you not up on Aussie slang) for treasures we were freakin’ delighted to stumble across these little cups:

Japanese sake cups displaying erotic art

Only boiled-egg cups if you like your breakfast on the kinky side ;D

An exciting Op Shop find

At first I thought they were boiled-egg cups, but after inspecting the art on the front more closely I quickly changed my mind. I’d say they’re almost definitely sake cups. While I’m no expert on these matters I think that tantric sexual acrobatics are more likely to be associated with drinking than breakfast in most cultures!

Unusually, Monique and I found lots of cool stuff that day, so apart from displaying them in our front room I didn’t pay them too much attention. That is, until we actually used and washed them, and I noticed this on the bottom of one of them:

Made in Japan sticker on bottom of cup

The plot thickens

Well, well, well!

Far from being the tacky knock-offs I thought they were, it turns out these little babies were made in, and presumably bought from, Japan. While this doesn’t necessarily make them collectable it does mean they are genuinely Japanese. Considering we found them at our local Op-Shop just down the road that makes them an awesome find.

Time to do some digging

Now that my interest in our little cups was piqued I did a bit of research to find out more.

Our sake cups were manufactured and sold in Kyoto, which is nothing short of synchronistic considering the first stop on our itinerary is Kyoto. They were made in the mid to late nineties making them sort of, kinda, almost vintage. Give them another five years and I reckon you could call them vintage.

The erotic art is apparently a recreation of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) that were popular during the Edo period when Japan was under Tokugawa Shogunate rule. In the Western calendar that’s from around 1603 to 1868. This period was characterised by ‘economic growth, strict social orders, isolationist foreign policies, an increase in both environmental protection and popular enjoyment of arts and culture.’

(Note – the two pictures I’ve linked in the paragraph below are of a graphic sexual nature. If you’re not into that sort of thing: no clicky-click!)

Shunga: badass of the Edo Period

The artistic style is called Shunga which is often a very graphic art form that features over-sized and extremely detailed male and female naughty bits. In fact, one of the most famous pieces of Japanese art – The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by artist Hokusai – is a Shunga piece that was created towards the end of the Edo period in 1814. Hokusai is also the creator of another iconic piece of Japanese art –  The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Shunga is thought to have originated in Ancient China during the T’ang Dynasty, finding it’s roots in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185). It reached it’s peak during the Edo period and was kind of the badass of modern art at the time as it often depicted criticism of Samurai and Daimyo (local Lords). Of course, officials hated it, and tried to ban it’s creation and distribution. But just like everything else officials try to ban, this attempt at censorship just made people like it a whole lot more.

Censorship couldn’t kill Shunga but the arrival of Western Culture (and particularly photography) caused its inevitable decline during the Meiji era (1868-1912). However Shunga lives on today as the inspiration for Showa and Hesei known (again) famously in the West as Hentai.

How about that?

Far from being some tacky imitation, our little sake cups are in fact genuinely Japanese and depict an iconic artistic style typical of the Edo period that, at the time, was considered counter-culture and today still inspires modern artistic styles.

And at 0.50c from the thrift store I think they might be the pinnacle of my op-shop expeditions.

Until next time,

Kally & Mon.

[Feature Image credit: Wikipedia]

What’s your best ever thrift shop find?

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