Even the diminutive size of hashioki seem to link them to Japan.
For example, this hashioki is nothing more than a small lump of clay that has been shaped by hand, had some features carved with a simple pointed tool, and then splashed with two colors of glaze before being fired. Yet it is instantly recognizable as a tanuki, or native Japanese raccoon dog, and appreciated as a delightful folk art rendering of a tanuki at that. Donald Richie, who wrote extensively about Japanese culture and film, once suggested that Japan’s historical historical experience of having to make more out of less space and fewer natural resources has made it the master of tiny items. “Traditionally, Japan learned to transform its poverty…. The art of the small, the minimal, the enormous economy of the spatial assumptions, this was due to not having much,”(1) Richie noted.
Hashioki makers know how to get a lot of bang out of their buck.
During the pre-modern Tokugawa period the Japanese government also levied consumption taxes as a means to restrict displays of wealth among the then newly-emerging middle class. These measures “forced craftsmen to lavish their skills on small private objects, like tiny ivory clasps or exquisite lacquer boxes… [thereby producing a Japanese] tradition of great craftsmanship in detail and miniature.”(2) This tradition, and the Japanese population’s appreciation for detailed small objects like this lovely hand painted fan with gold embellishment, undoubtedly apaved the way for the promulgation of hashioki in the twentieth century, and for their endurance today.
(1) Richie, Donald. “Patterns of Japanese Leisure,” October 1994 address at Harvard University. Partial Views: Essays on Contemporary Japan. Tokyo: The Japan Times, Ltd., 1995, p.30.
(2) Darmon, Reed. Made in Japan. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006, p. 7.
For more information on tanuki see my January 2016 post “Bad boys.”