Reversible coat
Japan, Edo period (1603-1868), ca. 19th century
H. 40.6 in (103cm) x W. 52.8 in (134cm)

Reversible coats called kawabaori made of thick smoked leather (fusube-gawa) were worn by high-ranking Japanese firemen, merchants and carpenters in the Edo period. The design on them was made with a particular smoking process (inden) which seems to have been introduced to Japan from India in the Momoyama Period (1568-1603). This technique made it possible both to impart color to the leather and to render it waterproof. Before the smoking and dyeing process was begun, rice paste was applied with a stencil to create a pattern reserved in white on the brown smoked leather. The design was usually something related to the owner’s name, profession or group name. On this coat, the group name “fuyu-gumi 冬組 (literally ‘winter group’)” is seen on the front, and a designed mark which was invented by connecting two kanji letters “hashigo 階子 (literally ‘ladder’)” is seen on the back. The geometrical design below represents a continuous ladder. The ladder was an important tool for firemen, so it is obvious that this piece was made for a fireman who carried one. The highly inventive designs on this coat are beautifully rendered.