If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you'll probably know that I have a thing for advertising ephemera from the 19th to the early 20th century. I am always on the lookout for Japanese prints that were issued to advertise a product, and I recently came across the one above, which was taken from a woodblock printed calendar published for the Kawamata Silk Refining Company of Yokohama in 1910. According to the text beneath the young woman, Kawamata pure silk:
Surpasses all others in its refining method.
Shows excellent lustre, when dyed or printed.
Suffers no change, no matter how long it may be kept.
Not only is the young woman wearing pure silk, she's holding a ball decorated with silk thread - an itomari (thread ball), also called a temari (hand ball). Young women and children are often shown playing with these thread balls in Japanese prints, especially in ones showing scenes from the New Year.
The print above shows three young women playing with a temari that is almost hidden in the pattern of the dress of the young girl standing behind it. They most likely had a bit of a sing-song whilst playing with it, as rhymes and ditties were popular accompaniments to ball games. One such rhyme goes:
Ten ten ten Tenjin-sama no omatsuri ni
Ten ten temari o kai mashita
Ten ten temari wa doko de tsuku
Ume no o-hana no shita de tsuku.
On the festival of Ten ten ten, Tenjin-sama,
I bought a ten ten temari.
Where am I to bounce the ten ten temari?
I am to bounce it under the blooming plum tree.*
Temari were made by wrapping cotton threads around a core of tightly rolled material scraps or paper to form a ball shape, to which was then added a decorative geometrical pattern in silk thread. Smaller ones were used in throwing games; the larger ones were usually made professionally and were bought for display in a household’s tokonoma during festive occasions.**
Another form of decorative ball that you might come across is that made using the kimekomi method. The image below shows one I prepared earlier (and when I say prepared, I mean bought online - it's vintage). Kimekomi means 'tuck in' in Japanese, and this gives you a clue as to the method of this ball's manufacture. The core of the ball is made from wood or compressed sawdust, with the design being carved into it to allow the fabric pieces to be tucked in to form the desired pattern.
* Taken from 'Two Ball-Bouncing Rhymes from Japan', by Gwladys Hughes, in The Journal of American Folklore (April to June 1950). The Tenjin-sama of the rhyme refers to Sugaware no Michizane, a Heian period politician and scholar. A shrine was erected to his memory following his death and deification, and parents wishing their children to grow up to be scholars prayed to his spirit. The 'ten ten' of the rhyme is added for rhythmical effect.*
** The tokonoma is a raised platform within an alcove, used for the display of flowers, paintings, ceramics, etc.