Museum gift shops in Japan are usually small and uninspiring affairs. Other than the standard wall of postcards portraying items in the museum’s collection, in Japan these shops are generally stocked with high priced items that have no visual connection to the museum’s art holdings, like $30 pens or $50 coaster sets that simply bear the name or the logo of the museum.
So I was delighted to find that the gift shop of the MOA Museum in Atami was an exception to the rule during my September 2013 visit.
In a small bowl sitting among other more expensive items were a mound of two different chopstick rests. The first one repeated the decorative motif of one of the two prizes in the MOA Museum’s collection, the “Tea-Leaf Jar with a Design of Wisteria” created by Nonomura Ninsei in the 17th century. The other one featured a portion from the museum’s other prize, the “Red and White Plum Blossoms” byobu or folding screen created by Ogata Korin in the 18th century. The hashioki were priced at just 250 JPY, or roughly $2.50 each at the exchange rate then.
The inspiration for these hashioki, the tea jar and the screen, are among Japan’s National Treasures. This is a special designation awarded by a government committee to art, crafts items, buildings and structures that have been judged to “possess high historic, artistic, and academic value for Japan.” Inaugerated in the early twentieth century to preserve irreplaceable items and buildings in response to rapid Westernization and active acquisition of indigenous objects by foreigners, Japan’s National Treasures are covered by laws that guard their sale, preservation and protection, and public display.
While I have occasionally found hashioki in other museums in Japan, Atami’s MOA Museum is the first place I have seen chopstick rests that specifically replicate objects in a museum’s collection. I think it’s wonderful that this museum has made a small and inexpensive souvenir available to their visitors, allowing guests to go home and actually remember some of the artwork that they saw as they use their hashioki.
That’s what I call smart merchandising.
Just a few days before our visit to the MOA Museum my husband and I made our second visit to what I consider to be the world’s most magical sculpture museum, the Hakone Open Air Museum. And like the Atami museum, I was able to find a hashioki produced by the Hakone museum in their gift shop. But this chopstick rest is not as satisfying as the MOA products. It’s an oddly shaped rest; there’s a grove for one chopstick tip on one side, and a less pronounced groove on the other side, and an unexplained hole in the middle. Maybe the idea is to burn a stick of incense between the tips of your chopsticks. In some ways this hashioki almost looks like a miniature sculpture, which is appropriate for a modern sculpture museum, but it doesn’t replicate any of the buildings or sculpture shown as the museum. Therefore, it does not seem as successful a souvenir as the MOA hashioki.
I wish that more museums in Japan, and elsewhere, would produce hashioki that help visitors to recall their artwork treasures. Hashioki make a wonderful mementos.