Meiji Lobsters
32 3/4 x 25 1/2 in. (42 1/4 x 35 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.)
The practice of laying fukusa over presents placed on wooden or lacquer trays became
wide spread during the Edo period, (17th to 19th century). What begun as a functional
practice to protect gifts from the elements, took on a decorative life of its own. Well-todo families owned large numbers of fukusa and often commissioned famous artists of
the time to design exclusively for them. The drawings were then created by such
techniques as tie-dying, stenciling, slit embroidery, tapestry, painting with embroidery
and combinations of all methods. Each time a fukusa was required, it was chosen not
only for the occasion but also for the season, the gift itself, and the status of the donor
and the recipient. Fukusa were also part of the brides’ trousseau and could be given
on the occasion of a wedding.
Fukusa were made of square or oblong pieces of silk, lined and often embellished with
tassels, and sometimes bearing the monogram or family crest on the reverse. Etiquette
decreed that the fukusa were not usually to be considered part of the gift itself and
were to be returned covering a token gift or an acknowledgement of the gift. However,
some recipients such as bureaucrats, who accepted gifts from people currying favors,
elected to keep the fukusa along with the gifts they covered, thus adding to their own
store of gift covers.