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Japanese Vintage Authentic Kai-awase 貝合 Game Shells
These Japanese vintage Kai-awase 貝合 game shells are the traditional Kaiawase pieces and as such authentic. We will also see and have had some larger shells, which are made as display pieces, or sometimes called a ‘kogo’ because of their size. Traditionally, the game of Kaiawase has up to 360 clam shells, all paired-up hand painted shells from Japan of about 3 cm in size, so they can easily be held in one hand as a pair. The island of Okinawa is most known for the volume of shells to be found. This pair is thought to be 80-100 years old, dating to between the Meiji, Taisho or early Showa period of 1910's-1930's. The shell itself as a whole is in perfect shape still on the outside- it has one mm size nick on the back at the joint of the shell. It is a pretty piece, with unique rust-brown spots on it. The ‘yamato-e’ is hand painted n patterns of blue, red and gold gilt; then painted with flowers on one and a wave pattern on the other. The patterns are not always an ‘exact’ match- see more below. I do not know or remember enough about Kaiawase but did play when I was much younger in Japan. These Kai-awase game shells are in good condition with no cracks or chips. They do have some age appropriate wear please see the pictures. They are highly collectable shells.
SIZE: 3.1 cm or 1.2"
The Game of Kai-awase 貝合
One of Japan's old games, Ka awase 貝合 is also called kaiooi 貝覆. The history I found said that it was a shell matching game during the Heian period, or from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. The matching half of the design was painted on other half shells and they were turned over one by one by players competing to match pairs. Often, a poem or miniature painting was added inside each shell in order to facilitate matching, with the first part written on one half and the latter part written on the other, while both halves were painted with an identical motif. The most popular motifs are flowers and episodes from the Tale of Genji, Genji- Monogatari 源氏物語. Historical Kai awase 貝合 can be found in many museums. The miniature paintings are done in a traditional style called yamato-e やまと絵 characterized by lavish gilt backgrounds.
The game is played with the shells being spread on top of a tatami mat and two people trying to match the set of shells. Later, the set became an essential part of a lady's dowry and various sets were created. Historically, they also would match sizes, shapes or patterns to find pairs of the claim shells. It later developed into the game where people would draw beautiful pictures on the internal side of the shells, put them on the floor with the picture facing down, and look for two shells with the same pictures, very similar to the memory card game of today. It was also said that the Kaiawase shells were lucky charms. making them popular among noble families. This is where the tradition began when princesses would take these with them when they would leave their house for marriage.
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