At around the same time as the Vikings began there first landings on the North-East coast of Britain, pillaging and raiding and burning and killing (8th Century), the Japanese were engaging in civilized games such as ‘Kai Awase’. Kai Awase is a matching game, much like today’s card matching games in which a person flips two cards (that are set face down) each go and must remember to be able to find the pairs. The difference is, of course, that rather than using cards they used intricately hand-painted sea shells, the design of which didn’t even have to be completely identical. As well as this, one game traditionally might have consisted of over 300 shells.
As well as using painted shells, the Japanese used other things too, matching pictures or poems. Shell painting isn’t particularly easy – it’s hard enough to get a proper grip in the thing to start painting. Nevertheless, some shells were painted in such fascinating detail that seem quite impossible to me after having a go myself.
It is incredibly impressive to be able to paint such an image is it is, but to do so on a shell and keep so much detail, much more so. These are fascinating works of art, that reflect the fascinating and complex culture of traditional and ancient Japan.
If you like the look of them why not give them a go! Just grab some shells, some paint and as thin a brush as you can find and get stuck in. Maybe you’ll make something amazing or maybe not, but you’ll definitely appreciate more those tiny works, and of course have fun!