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Peter Bleed

cuir bouilli in Japan

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cuir bouilli in Japan

Out of interest in Nanban fittings etc, I recently discovered an article that describes the Dutch trade of deer hides from Taiwan into Japan during the Edo period. And that made me recall a wonderful wakizashi a friend owns that is fitted with “Nanban leather.”

I asked for help from the (wonderful) Fur Trade Museum and they identified this stuff as “cuir bouilli” which is boiled leather – altho it doesn’t actually involve “boiling” (Be that as it may, I bet that a red wine is still appropriate accompaniment.)

So please allow me to ask this august body if we are aware of other Japanese cuir bouilli. Or should we assume that Japanese workers used leather that was “boiled” or otherwise prepared before it arrived in Japan. Leatherwork was hardly a common craft in Edo Japan, but there certainly was interest in exotic materials.

Peter

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Peter, a fascinating subject about which I know very little but need to know more. There was (and still is) a famous leather trade in the Himeji area and from the highway you can still see tanneries and open-sided warehouses hung with large smoked or boiled skins in the Tatsuno/Taishi area. The trade was carried out mainly by outcaste society, which makes it difficult to discuss openly even today.

 

Kawa. Nameshigawa. Nerigawa. Egawa. There are various words used when discussing leather armour parts which involve Kanji that do not readily appear in the keyboard, such as Fusubegawa, 燻革 or 熏 ( ふすべ ) 韋 ( がわ ) (= smoked deer leather). Sasama gives a description of the latter process in his big dictionary, Nihon no Katchu Bugu Jiten.

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Interested in learning more on this subject. The Edo period trading with various countries is a fascinating subject. Peter, way back then, what was the situation between China and Taiwan?

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It's a bit of a distant memory but I seem to recall reading that one way of creating the more exotic shapes of Japanese helmets was by moulded cuir boulli set on a metal bowl. No doubt Ian Bottomley will have a view on this.

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Thank you all for these interesting replies. In the popular understanding leather working was the specialty of so-called Burakumin or Eta folks. I had seen one of these pictures but not the one with the fellow painting the drum. They are very neat, Thank you David. In popular presentations these folks are often classed as "untouchables" and the folks in these images might seem a little unkempt but it also seems fair to view these folks as careful handlers of a field they monopolized. A friend of mine - now departed- studied the archaeology of Meiji period Eta sites because they got way (!) into bone working and made bone tooth brush handles for the world - but I digress.

I will attached an image I have been permitted to attach to this discussion. This is a snippet, but it really looks to me like it was not made in Japan

Peter1022149710_cuirbouilli.thumb.JPG.7cbc65bee8bd24fb9ce5e3aabdefb1a9.JPG

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All,  Several topics have become entangled here, so please bear with me.

Firstly - the whole leather situation. Japan was in fact a large user of leather despite the fact that the raw skins and the leather workers were regarded as unclean. Several native sources were used including deer and horses but the supply was totally inadequate and hides needed to be imported. Quantities of buffalo skins came in from China and SE Asia that was converted into rawhide or nerigawa. Sakakibara  Kozan states that that produced in Nagato and Suwo were best. In 1604 and 1635 it is recorded that some 250,000 deer skins were imported from Siam and Cambodia (Yoneo Ishii,  www.asjapan.org/web.php/lectures/2002/04). Large quantities of rawhide, including that made from buffalo skin, when suitably lacquered, was used in the making of armour. as did deer skins. It seems that when processed into something it was no longer defiling. A softer white leather was a speciality of Himeiji. Deer skins were first washed in the local river and then dried.The stiff rawhide was then treated by trampling with rape seed oil for hours to give the soft white leather. This was then usually treated in three ways: firstly by smoking to give fusube gawa. This involved fastening the skin on a drum above a small furnace in which was burnt either straw or pine needles. The former gave yellow colours, the latter browns. The leather could be patterned by folding, binding with cords or pasting paper cut-outs on the surface.  Fusube gawa was mainly used in situations where rubbing could occur such as the linings of armour. The second method was by stencilling to give e-gawa, often in patterns involving shi shi lions amid peony foliage in blue with flowers in red. The third method was to dye the leather.A common pattern, shobu gawa, involved rows of stylized iris leaves and flowers in white on an indigo dyed ground. This was done by carving the patterns in relief in wooden battens and binding them onto the leather wrapped around a drum. When dyed in indigo, the wood patterns prevented the dye reaching the leather under them giving a white pattern on the blue ground.

See: 'Leather in Warfare' edited by Quita Mould, Conference proceedings, Royal Armouries ISBN 9780948092763 

 

I forgot the cuir bouilli bit. In reality it was just moulded rawhide. To make a helmet or mask, the hide was stretched over a wooden block carved to the required shape and dried. Where the leather needed to be concave, small nails were hammered in. When fully dry and translucent it then underwent a long lacquering process to prevent it absorbing moisture. For helmets, several shapes were made and nested together, either glued or sewn with rawhide thongs. I have one such helmet which has 4 layers of hide making up the thickness. Provided the lacquer kept the moisture out it made excellent armour, but if cracked, the hide swelled and soften and the piece was ruined.

Ian Bottomleyi

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There are times when I approach the NMB like Amatarasu doing a dirty dance in front of a cave in hopes of getting the important spirits to come out (If I have misremembered this story forgive me. You should hear my recollection of Genesis).

My point is that NMB is a wonderful resource when a naive can pose a question that draws out real experts. I think I shook my bootie pretty well today. I drew out Ian!

Thank you, Ian, and let me say that the Fur Trade Museum also mentioned the "Leather in Warfare" volume.

Peter

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