The features on this round lacquered hashioki are made with hiragana, the native Japanese syllabary. The character he forms the eyebrows and the mouth, the character no is used for the eyes, and the nose is made from the character mo. The chin and ear are made from the character for ji. Therefore this face is known as a heno (eye) heno (eye) mo (nose) he (mouth) ji (chin).
For a long time I thought this was simply a fanciful design. But it turns out that this is the way Japanese children often draw faces on scarecrows or other figures, and that it’s also a popular graffiti.
The hashioki actually reminds me of Sei Shōnagon, the 11th century diarist and chronicler of Heian court life. One of the 164 lists in Ivan Morris’s translation of The Pillow Book is a itemized list entitled Adorable Things, and the first item on the list is “the face of a child drawn on a melon.”(1) I’ll have more to say about Sei Shōnagon in a future post.
Apparently drawing faces on melons was a popular pastime for women and children in 11th century Japan, similar to our modern custom of drawing faces on pumpkins at Halloween. Even though the face on this melon or hashioki is a frowning face, it still is pretty adorable.
(1) Morris, Ivan, translator and editor. The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971, p. 168.