I guess it’s appropriate that the slow moving kame or turtle, along with its land-dwelling cousin the tortoise, is a symbol of longevity in Japan. Turtles and tortoises often do have long life-spans, living 100 years or more. In Japan they may live even longer: “A crane lives a thousand and a turtle ten thousand years,” according to a Japanese proverb.
Another Japanese proverb compares the round shape of a full moon to the shape of a soft-shell turtle. The point of the proverb is that even though they have the same shape, they are very different, therefore warning us that objects or people that look like they should be similar are not always alike.
Turtles that live a long time in water sometimes get strings of seaweed or algae attached to the back of their shell, which produces a kind of fringe. The Japanese call this a minogame, or “straw raincoat turtle.” A minogame plays a role in the story of Urashima Tarō, one of Japan’s most famous legends. Tarō was a young fisherman who one day saw a group of children torturing a small turtle. He made them stop, and freed the turtle. The next day a minogame approached Tarō while he was fishing, and told him the the turtle he saved was the daughter of the King of Sea. The minogame transported Tarō to the bottom of the sea, where the fisherman met the King and his daughter, who now looked like a lovely princess. Tarō stayed with the daughter for three days, but found that he missed his elderly mother back in his village. The Turtle Princess said she understood, and she gave Tarō a special box, telling him it would protect him as long as he didn’t open the box. When Tarō returned to his village he discovered that instead of being gone for three days he was in fact under the sea for 300 years. He is still youthful, but his mother and everyone he once knew are dead. Confused and grieving, Tarō opened the lid of his box, and a cloud of white smoke instantly transformed him into a very old man. From the sea, the voice of the turtle princess reminded him that she warned him not to open the box. Another beautiful example of a minogame hashioki appears in very first post, “What are hashioki?” (December 2015).
I can’t help but think that some inventive hashioki maker is missing a big opportunity here: wouldn’t a turtle hashioki that was actually a small box be great? Especially if the turtle box hashioki was sold sealed? Especially if it was a turtle box with a baby turtle riding on top, like this hashioki above on the right?