Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

This year is the Year of the Rabbit in Japan as well as China. I've loved rabbits since I first rescued a very sad pair from a pet shop in Japan some years ago -  (of course it wasn't a good idea to get a male and a female and I soon had over 20 rabbits!) - and until recently I've always had one or two.   So it's surprising that I don't have many rabbit designs in my textile collection. They just don't come up as often you'd expect and tend to be very expensive when they do. The only rabbits we usually have in the shop are on modern quilting fabric designs.

Rabbits have a long and fairly complicated history in Japanese folklore  and myth - which I'm not as familiar with as I'd like to be.  There are many variations on  ancient stories associating  them with the ocean and also with the moon, some of which originated in China. So in traditional designs rabbits are often seen jumping over waves or looking at the moon.    Here are a few Japanese rabbits from my collection.  The first one is a katagami kimono stencil, probably early 20th century, showing rabbits and waves:

The next rabbits are from a Meiji period (1868-1912) chirimen silk crepe obi, which most likely has been recycled  from a kimono. These soft greys and other subtle tones were typical of one trend in kimono design in that period.

I thought I'd add a few other Japanese rabbits that I love even though they're not related to textiles at all. The first one is an old painted wooden panel which had been used to acknowledge a shrine donation. We used to have a  few of these in the shop with different designs - and I couldn't resist keeping this one.  These rabbits are having a traditional autumn moon viewing party (tsukimi) with sake and mochi rice cakes. The pampas grass in the background is also a typical  autumn symbol in these rabbit and moon designs.

This last one is a  very recent addition to our home. It's an old handmade  pull-along toy rabbit. It may not be the prettiest rabbit I've seen, or typically Japanese, or even as old as the other rabbits I've shown here,  but I love it for it's character and humbleness.


  1. Interesting.....I was born in the year of the rabbit..1963 and have always been drawn to both the moonlight and the sea!Love the idea of the rabbits riding waves by moonlight!Jan

  2. There is a darker side to the rabbit on the ocean story I'm afraid. Here's one version: