This hashioki doesn’t depict a famous character from literature, or the heroine from a Japanese folk tale, or anybody famous or noteworthy at all.
But then again, maybe it depicts a character who is all those things, because I think this hashioki is a tribute to an okasan, or mother in Japanese.
This okasan is sitting patiently on the floor in the traditional seiza style, with her thighs resting on her folded legs, and her derriere resting on her feet. Maybe she is welcoming guests in the doorway to her home, or waiting for her family to eat the meal she just cooked. She is smiling, perhaps because this hashioki demonstrates that for once she has been given a well-deserved place of honor not only at the table, but also on the table.
While we may think of Japan as a traditionally patriarchal society, it is actually the okasan who has held the family together in recent times. The okasan runs the household, manages the finances, and generally rules over both children and spouse. She is the first one up in the morning, and the last to go to bed at night. Today many okasan also work outside the home.
Okasan isn’t the only word for mother. It’s the polite term you use to refer to someone else’s mother, or to demonstrate your respect for your own mother in formal or polite situations. Inside the family most sons and daughters use the shorter and more amusing word haha to address their mothers.
I like to think that this hashioki was fashioned so that a husband or child could buy it and bring it home to show their okasan– not haha, but okasan — how much she is appreciated.