Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A secret glimpse

It's dangerous, but I have taken up op-shopping again. I have managed to break (or manage) my addiction for 4 years. But perhaps because I have the difficult job of writing my thesis paper, combined with a hard to find object (Ken Done for this project), coupled with a gamblers luck or finding some nice designer pieces (Dior and Ralph Lauren shirts, YLS, Hermes and Zenga ties), and the addiction is back in full swing. Yesterday when I was in a local op-shop sorting and scanning through the approximately 50 ties in the back for The Done when I spotted this odd design. It's not the sort of tie I would necessary buy- I am collecting stripes and checks at the moment, but it's odd set of colours and patterns, and unusual tag raised a question mark in my mind.

Fancy indeed! The label was making this it was an unusual tie- as the shape of the tag, as well as the name, was a little unconventional. As I was disentangling it from the masses of ties around it, I notice that the lining fabric was also a little out of the ordinary:

There appeared to be a drawing of a girl inside- a beek-a-boo tie. I have only seen one these type of ties- an American 1950's tie with a Alberto Vargas-esque pin-up girl, so thought it might have been a 'rip-off' with the lining badly placed.

(This is the best site I have found for vintage beek-a-boo, scroll down to find your favourite Hawaiian, Irish red head, Leopard skin glad brunette, or Jayne Mansfield or this contemporary one where you can shop via tie design or model.)

Of course I bought it- that's my problem with op-shopping, anything I can't work out I have to buy. That way I can think about it more or show it to people. When I got it home I realised that the factory thread holding the 'top' of the triangle was still in place and when cut, the tie open to reveal:

It's quiet an erotic thing to part the flaps to get the view of your secret picture. I noticed that there was a view out the window behind the couple and when I turn the tongue almost inside out, low and behold Fuji-yama came into view.

When I first saw it I thought the figures a little clumsy, but anatomical correctness is not really a feature of shunga prints. On closer inspection there is you can see that there is quiet a bit of detail and that the hands are a beautiful shape and that her toes are curled in the conventional sign of pleasure. These things make me think that it is either copied from an existing shunga or that it has been drawn and designed by an artist/designer. I have searched for a print it might have come from but have failed to find something similar. It has some formal elements that make it like a modest bijin-ga by Hiroshige:

such as the patterns of the fabrics against a plain background, with geometrical furniture motifs defining the pictorial space. Although this peek-a-boo seems a bit too modest for a Hiroshige shunga woodcut- but then again the decorative pattern around the image on the tie is reminiscent of the border feature in Hiroshige shunga volumes.

Unusually for most of the peek-a-boo ties I have encountered in this research, this one also has an image in the tie small end.

This looks like it might have been copied from a Torii Kiyonaga bathhouse print, or influence by his “Women in a bathhouse”.

There are also versions of this print where the man peeping through the small square window on the left is not there- although the doorway and window remain.

This object is saying 'Beppu' to me.

I think it might have been made as a souvenir for American marines on 'R & R' in this onsen and 'comfort' city for the following reasons:

  • The ties overall shape and design is reminiscent of the American "Bold Look": wide, with deco patterning and the era when girlie ties became popular.

  • The colours and pattens are very similar to ties I saw in Beppu that where still in there wrappers in dusty old stores run by ancient women in the cities post-war covered arcades

  • The bathing and courtesan themes of the peek-a-boo, promote the two big industries of Beppu- hot springs and brothels.

  • Fuji, is this instance, symbolises Japan rather than indicates a location.

Fuji was in my room at Beppu anyway.

Visiting Beppu, and the Beppu Art Projects, was one of the highlights of my trip in March. Thank you Takayuki for sending me there!

In celebration of Japanese erotic bijin-ga check out my friend Fuyumi Namioka's show of Araki at Lugnao.

Update: Fuyumi's show is part larger group of exhibitions and events under the title of Nippon, which includes an exhibition of shunga - this is a link to a small pdf catalogue.
Update #2: Jane's Year of Denim is having a 'suited' return including a 70's beek-a-boo!


  1. wow wow wow wow wow
    You lucky thing...fancy that! Unreal cool.

  2. This is the most *amazing* story! Who doesn't have a thing for peek-a-boo ties? And yet - your story is even MORE exciting because this tie takes it to the next level AND you got it in an op shop.

    It is because of stories like these that I op shop. Thanks for sharing!

  3. In relation with this subject, there is an exhibition called "Shunga" at Museo delle culture in Lugano. It's not my curation but is a part of the manifestation called "Nippon". Here is the link http://www.nipponlugano.ch/it/pdf/shunga-info.pdf

  4. thanks guys- I have updated the show information Fuyumi. x

  5. Wow! What a gorgeous thing. Much classier than my shabby nude-girl-on-a-phone peek-a-boo tie. Great find, good hunting.