Tuesday, September 10, 2013

a little history (hakata urasaki nativity)

I love history... not so much facts and dates... but the stories of people and places long (and sometimes not so long) ago.

So of course I love old things, because of the stories they can tell. I especially love old houses...lots of stories there. (I researched the history of our first house, a little 1920's bungalow, all the way back to the time the lot was nothing but prairie... and wrote it's story...it had wonderful stories to tell!) Because of this love of the history of things... I am often drawn to things that seem to have little or no (monetary) value... because of their history... the stories they can tell.


We were working at M's thrift store worksite a few weeks ago when I found an old box pushed back under a table in the office. It must have come in at the beginning of a busy donation time because it was buried under old linens, boxes of books, pots and pans, and toys.  I pulled it out and opened it up and found a yellowed newspaper carefully laid on top of whatever the contents were. The paper was a New York Times, dated June of 1977. Intrigued, I removed the newspaper and started unwrapping the contents of the box. It was an old nativity... I thought at first it was plaster... and many of the pieces were chipped, or had repairs, and a few were broken. The thrift stop doesn't keep things that are not in good shape, so I asked what I should do with it... I could tell it was old, but it was broken, did they want it? They said it was too beat up to keep, that they would either throw it away or donate it to a less picky thrift store. When I asked if I could have it they said sure...

I brought it home and researched the set, helped by the small paper tags on the bottom of each piece. What I discovered filled my imagination for days... The nativity is a Hakata Urasaki Nativity Set, made in Japan during or immediately after the U.S. occupation of Japan after WWII. (The set was probably made in, or around, 1950.) The Korean War was underway at the time and U.S. soldiers were stationed close to Korea in the  Japanese Prefecture of Fukuoka.  The U.S. Military had ordered the Nativity Sets (and probably other Hakata Urasaki dolls) made as souvenirs for the U.S. soldiers serving in the area.  Here's a link to more information (and a very charming website): http://www.existenz.co.jp/hakata%20urasaki.htm

I brought the box home, unwrapped each piece and left them sitting out for days... imagining life in occupied Japan, the Korean war coming so soon after WWII, a serviceman bringing the nativity home and it meaning so much to his family that it was repaired, not just once but multiple times, and kept...carefully wrapped... for more than 60 years.


The set isn't plaster, it's clay... and the pieces are hand painted. Unlike the Hakata dolls made for the Japanese, these were also coated with something that would make them "washable". There is a story behind that too... Rather than retell it, I'll copy what I found:

"Supposing that you handle Hakata doll with bare hands, Hakata doll will be easily soiled with finger marks, what is more important, in the event that you clean Hakata doll with wet towel, clothes painted on the surface will be damaged. The wholesalers... were afraid that U.S. military personnel do such an act , in other words, they feared the claim from U.S. military headquarters who were their clients. Because of that, they finished up Hakata Urasaki doll by coating the surface with a kind of waterproofing paints, and so, please note that Hakata Urasaki doll is not "washable" unlike standard pottery dolls. "

(The above is taken from the "Japanese Handicrafts Shop" site, link above.)

I'm not sure what will become of my Hakata Urasaki Nativity...I really don't need another nativity set, especially an incomplete one with broken pieces...(Mary and one of the wise men are broken, Jesus is missing) but I can't throw it away... it has such a story to tell.

A few pictures:


Mary... sadly, her hands are broken off... but isn't her face lovely?


Wise Men...




I LOVE the camel's face!


The whole set...

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