The number of children born in Japan is shrinking every year. But despite the declining birthrate, the availability of food related items with child appeal in Japan indicates that entertaining young diners at meal time remains a high priority. Almost every Japanese restaurant serves children’s meals on special plates shaped like fire engines or race cars, and department stores offer a wide variety of child-sized chopsticks, forks and spoons decorated with cartoon characters.
So it’s hardly surprising that hashioki shaped like omocha or toys are popular, too.
These hashioki, one lacquer and one ceramic, are in the shape of spinning tops. They actually work, so they could conceivably keep a child entertained while he or she is waiting to put their chopsticks to use.
This hashioki portrays a kendama, or wooden ball-and-stick toy. The object of the game is to throw the wooden ball, which is attached to the stick with a string and has a hole drilled into it, in the air and then catch it on the pointy end of the handle. It may be a child’s toy, but I can report from experience that it’s a very challenging test of hand-eye coordination for adults, too.
This taketombo or bamboo dragonfly is a simple shaft with a propeller attached to one end. Traditionally it was carved from bamboo, although today they are also made from plastic. It is similar to the old-fashioned whirly gig in the United States. The idea is to rub the shaft between your hands and then release it, hoping that the rotating propeller will make it fly. Apparently there are or once were competitions in Japan where contestants carved a taketombo on site and then competed to see whose toy would fly highest or farthest.
The hashioki on the left below shows a deflated kamifusen, or paper balloon, which were reportedly created by the wives of fishermen as an off-season craft.
This hashioki on the right depicts an inu hariko, or paper mache dog, which appears to be a sort of companion piece to the maneki neko, or lucky cat. Hariko (paper mache) is a craft
that came to Japan from China somewhere between the 14th. and 16th. centuries. This dog symbolizes loyalty and protection, which real dogs often provide, and is also considered to be a charm for an easy childbirth.
This scowling hashioki portrays a yakko or samurai’s servant from Japan’s Tokugawa era (1603-1867), when the country was ruled by shoguns. The yakko acted like a kind of forward bearer, clearing the way for a samurai, which sometimes included shoving lowly townspeople out of the way. It is still a popular design for kites in Japan, and is also often featured on New Year’s cards.
Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by an American who taught English at the school that eventually evolved into Tokyo University. It is called yakyuu in Japan, which is a pronunciation of the kanji 野 meaning “field” and the kanji 球 meaning “ball.” Baseball remains a popular sport in Japan today, at both the amateur and professional levels.
While omocha may be playthings for children, their popularity as hashioki also suggests that they are also evocative nostalgia items for those who are far removed from their childhood years.