These Japanese vintage ceramic ornaments are made in the fashion of painted seashell halves for the Kai-awase game 貝合わせ , a traditional Japanese game dating back to the Heian period of 794 to 1185. (See history and explanation below). They are decorated with the motif of Ohnakatomino Yorimoto, a very famous poet, writer, and philosopher, also of that time. They are handmade ceramic pieces, and handpainted in lovely colors. The picture of Ohnakatomino Yorimoto really does look like other pictures and art I have seen. The 'poem' side is a representation only and not actual written Japanese script, again represented in art. The poet is wearing traditional clothing of the time. The background is completed in solid shiny gold and the pictures are drawn as if in a dream, inside a cloud. They are signed on the back and as I recall the seller told me they were signed 藤原朝忠, representing the maker Fujiwara-no Asatada. The artist has signed both shells in a red cartouche or 'Kamajirushi ' on the front. They do come with the display stands and are very popular decorative items in Japan. We were fortunate to get two sets, they are different in that the poet is painted on different sides on the shells. They can be displayed together if one wishes. Both sets are in excellent condition with no cracks or chips and minimal surface wear. The coloring may be off, that and any spots are due to some overexposure on the black background. They still have their original boxes. They are about 30-40 years old or 'Showa Retro' age from the end of the Showa period, of 1926- 1989. If you wish for both sets, we will discount the second, please inquire.
SIZE: Shells approximately 3 1/2- 4 inches wide and 3- 3 1/2 on stands inches in height; In cm: about 10.16 by 7.62 cm, please inquire for exact measurements on stands, pending.
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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