japonisme: tender buttons

09 August 2009

tender buttons


It likes both to enter
and to leave,
actions it seems to feel as a kind of hide-and-seek.
It knows nothing of
what the cloth believes
of its magus-like powers.

If fastening and unfastening
are its nature,
it doesn’t care about its nature.

It likes the caress of two fingers
against its slightly
thickened edges.
It likes the scent and heat
of the proximate body.
The exhilaration of the washing
is its wild pleasure.

Amoralist, sensualist, dependent of cotton thread,
its sleep is curled like a cat to a patch of sun,
calico and round.

Its understanding is the understanding
of honey and jasmine, of letting what happens come.

A button envies no
neighboring button,
no snap, no knot, no polyester-braided toggle.
It rests on its red-checked shirt
in serene disregard.

It is its own story, completed.

Brevity and longevity mean nothing to a button carved of horn.

Nor do old dreams of passion
disturb it,
though once it wandered the
ten thousand grasses
with the musk-fragrance
caught in its nostrils;
though once it followed—it did, I tell you—that wind for miles.

Jane Hirshfield
Copyright © 2002 "Button" is from Jane Hirshfield's GIVEN SUGAR, GIVEN SALT

Satsuma-ware is classified in the "ceramics" category, that is, products made of fired clay. The original techniques were actually Korean, but after Japan’s invasion of Korea in 1598, Shimaza Yoshiro, lord of the Satsuma Province, brought back Korean artisans for the purpose of developing his own ceramic industry. Manufacture was continuous until the 1960s, with the secrets of the craft passed from generation to generation. However, the artisans became fewer, and their children moved away or lost interest in maintaining the family traditions, until the art became extinct.

Since the Japanese wore no buttons, none were made until export trade with the West was established. This occurred by treaty in 1868, fifteen years after Admiral Perry was allowed to anchor his ship in Tokyo harbor and begin negotiations. Japanese ceramics became popularized at the Vienna Exposition in 1873, and it was probably not until this time or shortly thereafter that the first Satsuma buttons were made. In fact, many were probably made not in Satsuma Province, but in Kyoto, from whence they were sent to Tokyo for hand-decorating and export. 1

(note: since i regularly decide to make-over some piece of clothing by replacing the buttons, it was time for a visit to the button shop -- see here and here and here and here. i found the top two buttons, the dragonfly and the geisha, photographed them, and came home to google their story. i did not find those stories -- though there were some similar to the dragonfly -- but i sure learned a lot about buttons.)


the british button society


webshells competition buttons


& lots of ebay: here and here and many more.

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Blogger John Hopper said...

I have seen a number of Satsuma buttons but not as varied as the ones shown in your post.

It is interesting to think that a culture with no history of button making, could take on the Europeans with their much longer tradition in button making, and in such a relatively short time period!

It's also good to see that there is a British Button Society. You can always trust the British to have a society for nearly everything. Now if they could only get some royal patronage it could become the much classier 'The Royal Society of Buttons'!

10 August, 2009 05:51  
Blogger lotusgreen said...


i had never heard of satsuma buttons before. you must have quite a collection there, john!

remember too, that not only did they take on buttons and succeed quickly, but they took on western "knowledge and society" too and in only 30 years went from being a feudal society to a modern industrialized, scientifically-based one!

10 August, 2009 08:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think whatever is charming about them goes back to before 30 years ago or is what survived the imposed westernization. They got rid of the dry and of the green part of themselves at the same time. Feudalism had no future, of course. d

10 August, 2009 08:58  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

yeah--it was a way of life that couldn't continue in modernity was included.... obviously....

but though the end of isolation was imposed, i think the westernization was embraced. the new emperor mandated the wearing of western clothing; scientists and engineers were clamored after, etc.

nicely put, d.

10 August, 2009 10:11  
Blogger consciousnesswalk said...

I find this post (the combination of poem, images subject)so beautiful it makes me have to comment, something I rarely do on anyone's blog.

10 August, 2009 18:23  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

i'm so touched by that, cw -- thank you, truly, and welcome.

10 August, 2009 19:43  

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