Rabbits (usagi) seem to hold a special place in Japanese hearts. And why not? They are small and subdued and well-behaved, meaning that rabbits make perfect pets, and perfect hashioki.
Rabbits reportedly have a reputation for being devious and playing the role of a trickster in Japanese folk tales. Something about the way this blue and white example is holding his head makes me think he could be interested in a little mischief.
But rabbits’ reputation as bad boys probably comes from the fact that they were one of the animals portrayed in the Chōjū-giga, or Frolicking Animals scrolls, where rabbits and other animals swim, dance and generally have a good time.
In Japan rabbits are associated with a full moon; when you look at the moon in Japan you supposedly see the Moon Rabbit who lives on the moon pounding rice to make mochi rice cakes with a big mortar and pestle. Rabbits are a symbol of autumn because that’s when the moon appears biggest and brightest. Although this legend is the foundation for the connection between rabbits and the moon, most of the hashioki I’ve found on this theme show rabbits on earth looking at the moon.
Rabbits are considered a good luck symbol in Japan, partly because they’re fertile, and partly because they have the innate ability to jump away from bad luck or jump over it. I don’t know if this last rabbit is jumping away from bad luck or not, but he does appear to be jumping over the moon.