Janken

Everybody in the US knows rock, paper, scissors right? Turns out it’s even bigger in Japan.

JankenKnown as janken in Japanese, rock, paper, scissors was reportedly imported to Japan from China in the 18th. century. According to “Hashi,” someone who posts on the web site Tofugu, janken continues to be popular among Japanese of all ages. In case you think it’s a way of determining disputes by luck or happenstance, you can visit the web site to see a video of a Japanese robot that has a 100% success rate of winning janken versus human opponents: https://www.tofugu.com/janan/janken/.

While I admit I was delighted to see this set for sale, I do have to wonder a bit about using it on a table setting. Are you limited to using it when there are only three diners? What is the host saying when she or he assigns guu (rock), paa (paper) or choki (scissors) to individual guests, or what are those guests saying about themselves if they select these hashioki? If the table is set with these chopstick rests do the diners have to play janken to determine who will serve themselves first, or who has to clean and wash the dishes? Just wondering.

A real Fuji fan

This 5-piece hashioki set in the shape of uchiwa Japanese fans celebrates Mt. Fuji, and also commemorates the work of one of Fuji-san’s greatest admirers, the artist Katsushika Hokusai.

This set is an example of Kiyomizu pottery, meaning ceramics created in an ornate style — notice the touches of golden gilt — first developed on the slopes beneath Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. I’m classifying this post under Collecting, rather than Cultural Expressions (like my other Fuji-san post) because the craftsmanship, the subject matter, and the Hokusai connection made this set a “must have” for my collection.

Fuji fanHokusai was a woodblock print artist during the early 19th. century. His 36-print set entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji are among his most famous prints. During Hokusai’s lifetime travel in Japan was restricted by the government, so “arm chair travel” via woodblock prints was a popular substitute. While Hokusai’s work is fresh and original thanks to his creative framing and emphasis on geometric forms, many of his customers could look at his prints and immediately identify the location because the distribution of similar prints had made them so familiar.

These hashioki are all based on prints from the Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. The first one (above) represents the most famous print in the series, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Fuji fanThe color of the mountain and the stack of thin horizontal clouds indicate that the second hashioki represents the print South Wind, Clear Sky, also known as Red Fuji.

 
Fuji fan

 

The third hashioki shows the other red Fuji in the series. It pays homage to the print that happens to be my favorite, which is entitled Rainstorm Beneath the Summit.

 

 

Fuji fanThe fourth hashioki shows a man constructing the largest wooden tub I can even imagine. It is drawn from the print Fuji View Field in Owari Province. Hokusai actually took a bit of artistic license here, as Owari is 150 miles from Mt. Fuji, and it is not actually possible to see the mountain from there. But as I pointed out in the beginning, his customers didn’t know that.

Fuji fanThe fifth hashioki is based on the print titled Shore of Tago Bay, Eijiri at Tōkaidō. As the name suggests, this location also happens to be a station along the Tōkaidō Road, the highway that ran between Tokyo and Kyoto. One of Hokusai’s contemporaries, Andō Hiroshige, was most famous for his set of 55 prints depicting the Tōkaidō Road. Hiroshige also produced his own series of Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji.

I intend to write more about 5-piece hashioki sets in the future, but for now I’ll just say that being featured in a 5-piece hashioki set essentially certifies what is depicted in a Japanese cultural icon…. not that there’s any doubt that either Fuji san or Hokusai are genuine Japanese cultural icons.

Fuji-san

I have been to Japan about a dozen times, and I have seen Japan’s iconic symbol, Mt. Fuji, only twice.

The first time was when I was riding the shinkansen or bullet train from Kyoto to TokyoScan on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. After the train left Mishima station I was thinking that if it was sunny I might be able to see Mt. Fuji from the train, and then suddenly — wow! there it was. I took a photo. If you look very closely you can just barely make out Mt. Fuji’s cone in the center of the photo.

The second time I saw Mt. Fuji was from the balcony of a Tokyo hotel. I was looking at the sky, and wondering why the sky looked so strange near the horizon. Then I realized I wasn’t looking at sky, I was looking at mountain. By the time I stepped into the hotel room to grab my camera Mt. Fuji had disappeared behind the clouds or the pollution.

Fuji sanIt’s not that I haven’t tried hard enough. I’ve been to Hakone, the area that Mt. Fuji presides over twice, and never seen the mountain. I’ve ridden the cable car which promises “dramatic Mt. Fuji views” and ridden on the ersatz pirate ship that suggests you will see both the mountain and its reflection in Lake Ashi, and still no luck. I have a handful of photos where you can see me standing in front of a sign reading “Mt. Fuji Overlook” and a wall of clouds.

Even though I haven’t had a lot of visual observation, I’ve had a lot of emotional Fuji sanobservation of Mt. Fuji. In Hakone you can sense its’ presence, and the few glimpses I’ve had made me feel its’ power. I can’t help but think that when Steven Speilberg wrote the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and he had his characters create duplicates of the mountain where the encounters would take place out of mashed potatoes and other substances even though they hadn’t seen the mountain yet, that he was really thinking about Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji, popularly know as Fuji-san (using an honorific form of address) in Japan, is at 12,389 feet the highest mountain in Japan. It is the 35th. highest mountain in the world. Fuji-san is a dormant volcano, and last erupted at the beginning of the 18th. century. In 2012 UNESCO add Mt. Fuji to its list of World Heritage Cultural Sites, noting that it has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.”

As you can see from the photos here, Mt. Fuji has also inspired hashioki makers — especially since 2013. And while my viewings of the real Mt. Fuji have been limited, I have obviously compensated by making my Fuji-sama hashioki collection exhaustive.

Taiyaki

This little fish is a taiyaki, or “sea bream cake”, a street food that is popular with hungry people of all ages in Japan.

IMG_3168Taiyaki are usually filled with a sweet, smooth bean paste made from dark red azuki beans. If you closely at the photo of this hashioki you may see a bit of bean paste escaping from the fish’s body beneath its’ jaw. I like azuki bean filling, but my favorite taiyaki filling is yellow sweet potato — not quite as sweet as azuki beans, but still delicious.

Taiyaki are made by pouring a pancake-like batter into heated metal molds. It’s fun to stand outside a taiyaki shop in a shopping arcade or at a festival and see dozens of taiyaki, baking in their molds, and swimming like a school of fish towards all the hungry customers.

Hyotan

Hyotan or hisago (gourds), sometimes known as bottle gourds, are a popular motif in Japan.

In Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design Merrily Baird writes that the Chinese believed that the double shape of a gourd symbolized heaven and earth, and IMG_3173that the hyotan’s numerous seeds suggested a connection with rebirth and immortality. Those beliefs were undoubtedly exported to Japan. A famous Japanese proverb — hyotan de namazu o IMG_3171osaeru — also compares a difficult task to be like “trying to catch a catfish with a gourd.”

in the pre-modern period Japanese men often carried a small gourd on a toggles at their waist, while during the same period women had them engraved on their footwear as a talisman to prevent tripping.

Hollow hyotan are sometimes used as canteens or flower holders, and historically were used to serve sake. I have a hyotan that I bought in Indiana that was made into a small bird house. I think they’re the perfect shape for hashioki because the area between the two bulges is just right for the tips of two chopsticks.

Hyotan have a military connection, too, through Shogun Totomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598). Some stories say that Hideyoshi adopted the hyotan as his battle emblem as a nod to his peasant origins, while others claim that he won a significant military victory when a gold hyotan was hoisted on top of a pole as his ensign. Both stories, of course, may be true.

Clock

The first hashioki I ever saw in the shape of a clock was outside a shop along the Sannenzaka (meaning “slope of three years”) below Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. It was IMG_3183embedded in concrete outside a shop that sold ceramics — bowls, plates, and of course chopstick rests. I scoured the inventory of the shop to find another clock hashioki, because it seemed very unique to me, but I had no luck. I did, however, find some other wonderful hashioki there to buy…..

Since that time, roughly ten years ago, I’ve become I loyal customer of Shoindo, the shop described above, both in person and on line thru Rakuten. It has been the source of many lovely pieces. Shoindo has been in business since 1855, and was once a purveyor to the Imperial Household. They specialize in kiyomizu ware, meaning ceramics that were once produced in eastern Kyoto near Kiyomizu Temple. This style of ceramics have a sophisticated style, are handpainted and often embellished with gold, and are made in shapes that are both traditional and yet unique in the marketplace.

If you look at this hashioki you can see that the time is a little bit past 5 o’clock — meaning that it’s time to set the table for dinner. Don’t forget the chopstick rests!

A traditional flower

If it weren’t for its’ saw-toothed edges, this pale pink blossom could be mistaken for the blossom of the plum (ume) tree.

IMG_3166But this flower is a nadeshiko, or wild carnation. In Japan the nadeshiko is often interpreted to be a reference to yamato nadeshiko, a term used to describe a shy young woman who eptomizes the pure and reserved character of a traditional Japanese woman. In my favorite Japanese novel, Sasameyuki (translated into English as The Makioka Sisters) by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, one of the four adult sisters is such a yamato nadeshiko that she is unable to bring herself to speak on the telephone when a suitor calls.

I don’t think there are many yamato nadeshiko’s left in Japan — although I’m sure there are plenty of wild carnations in May.

May flower: Iris

I have decided to allow my commentary about a collection of Japanese objects be influenced by a very American homily; now that the April showers have passed, my first post for the month of May will be about a flower.

IMG_3185The iris, known in Japanese as the ayame, kakitsubata or honashōbu, is a popular flower in Japan. It favors a wet or marshy environment, so it appears in many ponds and watery gardens.

I associate the iris with Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, the Shinto temple that is dedicated to Japan’s Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). Meiji Shrine has a spectacular iris garden that blooms in early May. Visitors can walk through the garden on a zigzag path made from pairs of narrow wooden planks just a few inches above the flooded marsh where the irises bloom. This zigzag-planks-through-irises is in fact a familiar motif in Japanese art, and is featured on a famousIMG_3184 folding screen (byōbu) by Ogata Kōrin.

Some Japanese believe that nature, including flowers, provides lessons for mankind. The lesson of the iris must be that unexpected beauty can bloom out of murky depths. Perhaps that is the reason why many Shinto shrines in Japan feature iris gardens.

Brush rest

Brush restThis hashioki is in the shape of a Chinese accessory used to rest the tips of the soft-haired brushes that are used for writing calligraphy of creating ink wash sumi-e paintings. Brush rests allow the user to use and safely rest multiple brushes while creating a work of art.

While I occasionally see brush rests being sold as chopstick rests, I think this hashioki is truly a hashioki because it is smaller than most brush rests, and it only has two grooves while real brush rests often have three or four.

I like that this hashioki and most brush rests are in the shape of mountain peaks, because mountains are such an important element in Japan’s geography, and often are featured in ink wash paintings.

Morning glories

Morning glories (asagao) were originally imported from China for their medicinal purposes. In Japan the blossoms open before dawn, and fade by mid morning. This Morning gloriesflower was immortalized by Lady Murasaki in The Tale of Genji when her dashing hero courts Princess Asagao. The lady rejects Geni’s advances, inspiring him to write a poem suggesting she, too, was past her bloom. Later in the novel Genji approaches Princess Asagao again, wondering if she had perhaps bloomed again.

In Elizabeth Kiritani’s wonderful 1995 book, Vanishing Japan: Traditions Crafts and Cultures, which is unfortunately now out of print, she writes about the Iriya Market, a three-day market held in early July near Ueno Park that officially marked the beginningMorning glories of summer for Tokyo residents during the Meiji (1868-1912) era. The market featured morning glories in every possible color, including colors such as “shrimp-tea” (ebi cha) that I have never seen in morning glories. According to the Internet, the market is still held, and in fact is referred to as Iriya Asagao Matsuri, or Morning Glory Festival. Last year the market featured 100 stalls and 120 flower producers.