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Senninbari / A Thousand Stitch Belt

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18.5 x 13 in

“May 1st is the time for a new release in the series Hyakunen no Hana (Flowers of a Hundred Years), and the design for the year 1940 is called Senninbari, or A Thousand Stitch Belt. These belts, which may date back to the 17th Century, are sewn by a thousand passers-by, one stitch each, as a lucky charm given by a woman to a warrior. By the period of the Asian War of the late 1930s, and the Pacific War of the early 1940s, prepared strips of fabric were sold, printed with a thousand crimson circles, each of which would then be stitched and the gift wrapped around the stomach of the soldier, sailor or airman going to fight. Some Western collectors, particularly those in the United States, may find this period difficult, but my emphasis is entirely on the often heroic struggle of women left behind on the home front, not the fighting itself, and it should be remembered that Japan was under a military dictatorship as fascist as any in Europe at the time.
The subject was suggested by a print by Iwata Sengai, an illustrator and artist on the inter-war years, of Women with Thousand Stich Belts from 1937, and a poster for a song of the Dai Nippon Kokubou Fujin Kai (Greater Japan National Defence Women's Association), as noted on the sash the young woman wears. She also wears a 'kappogi' a type of apron or pinafore over her kimono, somewhat symbolic of her role as a wife, so we may imagine she is asking strangers to stitch the belt for her husband, called up to fight. The writer Shoken Joshi stated that 'To me, the "Senninbari' is the most beautiful scene that can be created on the street." Generally women would place themselves near busy public locations, such as shrines, street corners or railway stations, to stop passers-by, and here, our young wife stands before the Japanese flag.
As with all of this series, the print is in an edition of 100, is 47 x 33 cm and employs gold leaf, silver and bronze metallic pigments, mica on the collars and embossing, as well as around 30 printed colours. Tiny embossed and sliver-printed aeroplanes on her two kimono suggest that her husband is a pilot.
Paul Binnie

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