One of the many new words I had to learn when my children attended Japanese school was zōkin 雑巾, which is a cleaning rag made by stitching together a few layers of cloth into a neat rectangle. Zōkin were always on the list of back-to-school supplies because each student has to have his or her own rag to use during school-cleaning duties. They look like this:
The word zōkin popped up in my life again when I was touring one of the exhibitions on now at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. The show is called Creating with Light and it’s all about how photographers manipulated their images before Photoshop made it easy. Examples include hand tinting, double exposure and cropping. One technique that was popular in Japan was zōkin-gake 雑巾がけ, or “rag-wipe retouching.” The photograph above (not the rag one; the one above that!), made in 1931 by Yasumoto Kōyō 安本江陽 and the photograph below, made in 1927 by Koseki Shōtarō 小関庄太郎, are classic examples. Oil was applied with a rag to deliberately blur and soften the image.
By coincidence, a few days later I came across another zōkin-gake photograph, kinjo no kazoku 近所の家族 (“Neighborhood Family), also made in 1931 by the far more famous photographer Ueda Shōji 植田正治 . It’s on display through August 31 at the Fujifilm Photo Museum in Roppongi. In that exhibit, the English translation for zōkin-gake was “mopping the floor!”
I’m giving away a pair of tickets to the Creating with Light show. Enter by sending me your name, email address and mailing address via the contact form on this blog. I won’t use your personal information for any reason. I won’t even keep it. I’ll use a computer to randomly select a winner. Let’s limit to this to residents of Japan, and to be fair to others, please enter only if you’ve got a reasonable chance of using the tickets. Since the exhibit closes on July 8, I’m going to make this one snappy: I’ll select the winner on Monday July 1 and mail them out the same day. That way the winner will receive them well before the final weekend.
I do giveaways periodically so check back often, or register to be notified by email of updates (which don’t happen so often that you’ll be inundated with mail).
Thank you Alice for answering a long standing question in my mind about why they always asked for these personal cloths in the back to school list and why when I visited Japan these cloths were displayed on racks at the school.
At Lily’s school in Boston, Boston Higashi School for autistic children, they asked for these things in the beginning when the school first opened. They also had the children clean the school. American parents objected and later teachers were observed on their hands and knees washing the floors. Eventually the school became Americanized and they hired janitorial staff but habits die hard and one can still see Japanese staff cleaning the school.
Wish I could see the exhibits you refer to…
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