Antique Nagoya Obi–Regal Ryukin

A Calm Fancy Goldfish On Cream Shear Silk With Silver Lacquered Threads

So I bought an obi stand. It was a little bit of a mess when it came to me, as the lacquer finish had become a bit milky. As it has been explained to me, that happens when it’s been exposed to a great deal of humidity. The seller of this item, direct from Gifu Japan, dated it 1910–the late Meiji Era. I would say she looks pretty goddamn good for being over a century old, don’t you think? I know how to handle milky lacquer, too, so with a little patience and some really harsh chemicals, she’s shiny as new again. There’s still some little pocks and cracks on her, and when my wax arrives I’ll be protecting her further, but I’m not going to attempt to sand it down or otherwise refinish it. This has a delicious red finish to it, and I’m not going to blast that artistry off just because she’s not perfect. Fuck that. Maybe she’ll get her own blog entry.

Anyway, check out this kingyo (goldfish) obi! This is a delightful little sha (sheer silk weave for summer) Nagoya obi (specific type of sash that is wider at one end than the other) from, I was told, the Taisho Era. I don’t have provenance on this particular piece, though, so I’m satisfied to call it an “antique” on account of the fact that the Taisho Era was very short. So we see some trends that are considered to be Taisho classic persist into the 1930’s, but that’s technically the early Showa Era. Woven into the silk all over the piece, from end to end, are silver urushi (lacquered) threads that just sparkle as the piece moves. It really does kind of give off the effect of looking at water.

The plants, fish, and ripples on this piece are largely hand painted with a sweet watercolor feel to them. In places, they’re embellished with the softest silk and urushi thread embroidery. I know you wanna pet that goldfish. It’s okay, we all do.

As I mentioned, it’s a summer weight obi, and it really feels like it, too. Not just the lightness of the garment itself. That’s great and all, but the soft ripples in the water, the greenery draping over it, and even the cute little water skimmer in the corner there.

Pictured: “S’up, nerds.”

Doesn’t it just feel like quiet summer afternoon next to a pond? It’s relaxing to look at. It’s nostalgic in a way. Kicking your bare feet in the water, and occasionally the little fishes come investigate your toes. Not a care in the world.

Except maybe Swamp Thing. -Narrows eyes, shotgun chk-chk.-


The big, fat, happy goldfish we see here looks to me like a breed called a “Ryukin.” And I would know, I have a few! They’re one of my favorite kinds of water piggies fish.


I restore obi, too, which comes as a surprise to exactly nobody. I’ve also had this piece for about five years now. It came to me in relatively good condition, although there were some loose threads here and there. The biggest problems with it were a few surface stains. I wasn’t able to eliminate them completely, but I was able to lighten them so much that I fucking dare you to find them on the first pass. If I don’t tell you where they are, you won’t see them unless you’re hunting for them. And I was satisfied with that as a result even five years ago, because ultimately once you start getting aggressive with a stain, you start risking other elements. This piece has hand painted elements as well as woven metallic threads. Getting too aggressive about stain removal can annihilate urushi. Sure, I might have fully removed stain, but you’re going to see that area really goddamn fast because it’ll be the only spot on the whole thing that doesn’t shine.

Fuck that. She’s old as hell, she doesn’t have to be perfect.

Now that I’ve taken pictures of this obi and shared it with you all here, it’s going in a box and for the first time in no less than fifty years (I bought it domestically), it’s going back to Japan on loan. I’m pretty excited about that, actually. I’ll share the pictures when they’re available, so check back.

Well, that’s it for this one then.


2 thoughts on “Antique Nagoya Obi–Regal Ryukin

  1. I adore how the embroidery in the water walker part just seems to fade down to nothing, implying ripples that vanish the further out you get. It’s true artistry to be able to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

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