The word hashi, which is the first part of the compound word hashioki, is (as I explained in my post What’s in a name? ) the pronunciation for the Japanese kanji or ideograph for “chopsticks.” This kanji is shown below on the left.
Hashi is also one pronunciation for a different Japanese kanji which means “bridge”. The kanji for bridge is shown to the right of the kanji for chopsticks.
Since the two kanji are homonyms, you could think of a hashioki as a hashi (bridge) for your hashi (chopsticks). The coincidence has inspired hashioki in the shape of bridges, as well as hashioki that rest on little feet in the form of bridges.
Merrily Baird writes that thanks to the preponderance of rivers, streams, and canals, bridges are everywhere in Japan. She notes that bridges have always been a popular theme in Japanese art, particularly when they allude to Japanese legends or literature classics.(1) This blue and white example, where the image of a bridge is displayed beside some cursive or Japanese grass style writing, alludes to that connection.
The homophonic hashi connection also reinforces the idea that in the same way that hashioki function as bridges between food and mouth or table and mouth, they also serve function as symbolic bridges between the people who use them and Japanese culture.
This hashi is a reproduction of the famous meganebashi bridge in Nagasaki. When the arches of the bridge are reflected in the Nakashima River it spans, it is said to megane or eyeglasses with round lenses. This piece must be authentic; I purchased it at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture gift shop. I wish there were more hashioki that were genuine souvenirs, functioning as bridges between famous sites and dining room tables.
(1) Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2001, pp. 224-245.