Category Archives: museum

Cheesy Pencil


The Setagaya Art Museum is doing a special exhibition called Pleasure in the History of Fashion. It features a bunch of historical prints of Western fashions from the 16th to 20th centuries. The prints are complimented by actual clothes, mostly dresses, from the Kobe Fashion Museum Collection.

I didn’t care much about the prints, but loved looking at the dresses. I know a fair amount about the history of women’s fashion; I studied it in college and have always found it fascinating. There was a time when I could look at a dress and tell you when it was made to within a decade.

There were no barriers or glass partitions or any other sort of security that I could see. The clothes were so close one could lean forward and touch them, or at least get a really close-up view. There were silk and satin, velvet and taffeta, brocade and lace. I saw panniers and hoop skirts and corsets and bustles, tassels and bows and embroidery and ruffles. There was a woolen one piece bathing costume from the 1920’s. A Marie Antoinette-type get-up featured a three foot high white wig festooned with pearls and silk flowers and feathers and ribbons. The woman who wore it must have had to squat to get through doorways.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing was the (replica) robes Napoleon and Josephine wore for their coronation. They were blood red silk satin and silk velvet trimmed with gold thread, ermine, silver and zircon. Quite stunning, so I asked if I could take a picture.


OK. But I wanted to remember the details so I pulled out my trusty notepad and pen. The woman swooped forward thrusting a cheesy plastic pencil at me, the kind you use to write down your scores at miniature golf.

“Pencil only! No pen!”



I can’t imagine why I wasn’t allowed to use my pen. Perhaps they thought I would go berserk and doodle a mustache on poor Josephine. At any rate, this is Japan and there are rules and sometimes it’s best to just shrug it off and use the cheesy pencil. I may even make that a mantra. Whenever I get frustrated I will take a deep breath and use the cheesy pencil.