Edo Period Mirror Restoration: The Beginning

Project 15, part 1 – The Sword, The Mirror, and the Jewel

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I’ve got a brand new restoration project to share with you, and it’s not even clothing this time! Gasp! I was wanting a bit of a challenge, and to try something I’d never done before, when one of my senpai pointed out this beautiful Edo period mirror to me at a Kyoto Art & Antiques sale.

“18th-19th Century Japanese” is basically catnip to me. 😀

Oh, does that not look enticing? My bad — here’s the other side:

There we go. 🙂

Isn’t it gorgeous?! Pines, cranes, bamboo, and turtles are all symbols of longevity, health, and vitality – The Met has a similar one in their collection, except theirs adds plum blossom to make a full set of the “three friends of winter” (shochikubai) which are good luck symbols and particularly associated with the New Year. Mine appears to be lacking the plum blossom, making it more focused on long life and health. You can see below my hand and finger for scale on the handle and thickness of the mirror itself:

Mirrors are typically just referred to as “kagami” in Japanese now, but this sort of mirror in the Edo period was known as e-kagami. They were usually made of brass or bronze, and the mirror disc itself was greatly enlarged from previous centuries, possibly due to the increased size and complexity of women’s hair arrangements. The handles were sometimes bound in rattan as you can see in these examples from the Pitt Rivers Collection:

Probably a lot nicer to hold than bare bronze!

However, as you can see from this extant image, they might also be framed in lacquered wood. They typically were meant to sit in a small stand or frame, as well, with the handle either down or off to the side – much like a modern vanity.

Mirror-makers and polishers were held in very high esteem during this period, since the three imperial regalia of Japan are a sword, a jewel, and a mirror! The sword represents strength or valor, the jewel benevolence, and the mirror wisdom. They were historically polished around the New Year – on the 20th of the first month “hatsu kagami” or “first use of the mirror,” samurai women would offer kagami mochi and consume them while opening up their newly polished mirrors. Is this the origin of “kagami biraki” – “opening of the mirrors” that my dojo (along with many others) observes? More research is required!

I’m already a little late on getting this done for the New Year (maybe the Lunar one, if I hustle!), but I do look forward to polishing my mirror and crafting a new stand to hold it! (Luckily, my husband is a woodworker and can offer some assistance with the last part…) If you haven’t already, please subscribe below to get a notification each week about my latest post, and I look forward to seeing you next week here on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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