Japanese fukusa, a silk satin gift cover depicting the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. The development of the Japanese fukusa is closely associated with their custom of gift giving. Japan has been a farming country until recently and crops were directly affected by nature (draft, floods, etc). The rituals were held within their own communities and fresh crops were offered to god. To irrigate and lay the roads, they needed the better their work relationship. The custom of eating and drinking together in business today has a deep root from this early time.
The scene shown on this Fukusa is the seven Chinese sages relaxing and enjoying the reclusive life in the bamboo grove. It is a familiar scene in Japanese art from the mid Edo to mid Meiji period. They were said to enjoy the simple life of country while sometimse intoxicated with wine.
They are actually the Chinese scholar-recluse from the 3rd century who escaped from one of the bloodiest times in Chinese history. We get some idea of how bloody this period was: “A population census in late Eastern Han Dynasty reported a population of approximately 56 million, while a population census in early Western Jin dynasty (after Jin re-unified China) reported a population of approximately 16 million”…“it's safe to assume that a large percentage of the population was wiped out during the constant wars.” (Wikipedia)
The group lived freely, appreciated nature, engaged in pure conversation (Quingtan) discussing and criticizing government, wrote poems, played music and again drank wine together. Their spontaneous approach, learning by observing nature instead of theorizing it was quite different from the Confucian doctrine that emphasized tradition, social responsibility and ethics and took over during this time.
Whether the gathering actually took place or not was a later question but the gathering itself became a symbol and had influence on many intellects not only in China but also in other countries like the Japanese monks from the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and Samurais and literati of the Edo period (1603-1868). They also inspired many artists over the years as you can see it on this Japanese fukusa. This theme could be easily understood by the samurais who probably saw themselves trapped in the same situation living under the tight control of the Tokugawa government.
This fukusa may show the Japanese interpretation of the gathering or it can carry different meanings depending on the occasion and people involved. This fukusa may be appropriate to cover a gift for someone older and might simply be suggesting, “do what you enjoy in your life". Measurements are 27 1/4 inches X 25 inches, circa early Meiji period.