Shortly after I began collecting hashioki in Hong Kong the Staff Restaurant at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology began setting their tables at dinner with this blue and white chopstick rest.
I have to admit that I thought it was strange that an educational institution would decorate its dining tables with a bare-assed little boy. But the child’s happy grin indicated he wasn’t at all embarrassed to be lollng around almost naked under the tips of diners’ chopsticks.
It turns out that this hashioki was probably a nod to a Chinese tradition. Babies, particularly plump and healthy babies, are historically a popular design motif in China. When China’s economy was based on agriculture lots of healthy babies meant a supply of workers for the farm, plus descendants to carry on the family name. And until recently many Chinese babies didn’t wear diapers or training pants while they were awake, but instead learned to eliminate when their parent or caregiver made a particular sound.
Of course it’s possible that the bare-assed chopstick rest from HKUST was not meant to evoke Chinese traditions, babies, or wild behavior. Maybe their presence at the Staff Restaurant was a simple indication of traditional Chinese thrift, as I purchased the same chopstick rest at China Arts and Crafts in the Tsimshatsui district of Hong Kong for the equivalent of two US dollars, which was pretty cheap even for a chopstick rest.
Over the years I’ve encountered other versions of these Chinese babies. This pair of twin girls with the gold decoration — they must be twins because they were sold as a pair — I found at the giftshop of the Tao Restaurant and Nightclub at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
This pair, purchased on eBay in 2013, are more finely rendered. Like the HKUST example above, the girl baby is wearing a stomach protector, an embroidered piece of fabric that is the traditional Chinese first line of defense in protecting the digestive system. The boy baby is wearing a cape made from a lotus leaf, as is the girl hashioki featured on the left; if you look closely, you can see the faint suggestion of the big leaf’s veins.
The most provocative chopstick rests in my collection are a set of 10 naked women in a variety of poses. The set was purchased by a friend as a gift for my collection at an antique market in Beijing in 1995. They arrived in a box with a black brocade cover. Although I consider these chopstick rests to be more risqué than pornographic, I still have trouble imagining a meal where I would use them to set my table. To me they suggest the nightclubs and dance halls of Shanghai in the 1930s, the kind of decadent pleasure dens portrayed in the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I’m not sure if they should be used as a resting place for chopsticks, or as a prop for swizzle sticks.
Just to prove that the Chinese don’t have a monopoly on naked chopstick rests, I purchased this hashioki of showing a woman’s naked posterior in a Kyoto department store in August 2014.
Even if I haven’t used naked body chopstick rests at my dining table, I appreciate the spice they add to my collection.