Opening Ceremony. Tokyo Olympics 2021. NBC. Taken by Cynthia Shaver of her television July 23, 2021.
Watching the Opening Ceremony for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, I was immediately struck by a group of eight or more men dressed in matching patterned knee length blue and white jackets, like uniforms, carrying large three-dimensional white papier-mâché standards (matoi) with long paper strips hanging from them, twirling them around and up-and-down. That image of twirling matoi was frequently seen in samurai movies for the Japanese audience. That uniformed squad represented one fire station, one neighborhood or one area within Edo (old Tokyo). People with cloth kerchiefs around their foreheads with a knot in front are referred to as true ‘Edokko’ or authentic Edo citizens. Pride in the city. Fires in Edo, poetically referred to as the ‘flower of Edo’, were very a common occurrence due to wind and open fires in wood houses. An organized squadron of volunteers protected the commoner’s area around the castle, separated from the upper-class Samurai. In this large area there were 48 stations, all with separate matoi. Decreed by the Shogun in late 18th c, all patterns on their clothing had to be the same, but on the center back of the jacket was a separate logo, matching the paper mache standard, an identification of the squad. There were also private fire companies, hired by the individual merchant for his property.
By the beginning of the 1800’s, there were over 1,000 firemen in Edo. That means there was a lot of blue and white brick patterned cotton clothing around. On today’s open marketplace, (shibui.com or trocadero.com) Japanese vintage firemen clothing is available, some from Edo and other urban areas like Osaka. The three fingered glove was standard because it made gripping the tools easier and two distinct styles developed with one having a mitten like covering. This second style, with a mitten cover, was shown in woodblock prints made in late 1800’s. Because these drawings were published, this style became the standard, the number one value characteristic of firemen gloves.
Recently I examined a group of about ten late 1800’s firemen gloves, coming from urban centers around the country. As I have often described, a personal property appraiser needs to identify the quality elements first, then the value elements. In the case of the gloves, quality would address the fiber; strong, absorbable (they were doused in water before fighting the blaze), plentiful or rare. Pattern is often an important element for value, and if there is a logo, that is an added value too. There are variations on the blue & white brick pattern and the most valuable is the pattern copied by the woodblock print artists. I saw gloves with no pattern, brick pattern variations, the brick pattern of the prints, and then the gloves with a brick pattern and a logo. These are four levels of value characteristics, not to mention condition, dye and the strength of woven fiber. The overall value of the gloves, from $350 – $1,000, reflected these different elements. That is a big difference in value and gives a nod to the importance of ‘fire’ in Edo, and maybe the importance of the Olympics too.