Fair weather friend

I was surprised to find a hashioki shaped like the ghost that I associate with the Western holiday Halloween.


It turns out this isn’t a ghost at all, which may be why it’s smiling and looking so unintimidating. This is a teru teru bozu, or “shine shine monk.” It’s a kind of charm that is supposed to bring good weather and prevent rain. They were traditionally made from white cloth and hung on a string by farmers hoping for good weather; today they are more likely to be made from paper or tissues by children hoping that tomorrow’s weather will be good for an outing or ball game.

Teru teru bozu are a little like daruma (see my Daruma post from August 2016), in that the maker is supposed to make and hang them without facial features, and then draw the eyes in if their wish for good weather is granted. Bozu is an informal word used to refer to Buddhist monks, and is also reportedly a nickname for little boys with close cropped hair.

Maybe a teru teru bozu made by a bozu has more power?



While the words “Japanese doll” may conjure up the image of an elegant figurine with a china head and brocade kimono, a far more popular — and affordable — kind of Japanese doll is the kokeshi.

img_2579Kokeshi are wooden dolls with cylindrical bodies and simple faces. They usually have no arms or legs, and are often decorated with a design painted on their bodies. The word kokeshi is written in hiragana, not kanji, and its origin is unknown, but it may derive from some combination of Japanese words for wood (ki) and small (ko).

Kokeshi are craft items associated with the northern region of Japan’s main island, known as Tōhoku. This area has heavy snowfalls in winter, and it is said that farmers there spend the long winter nights carving kokeshi. Tōhoku is also famous for its’ onsen or hot springs, and kokeshi dolls are popular onsen souvenirs. As the examples here show, the dolls can vary according to the shape of their body or the size of their head, and some regions of Tōhoku are associated with a particular style of kokeshi doll.

Kokeshi reportedly date from the Tokugawa or Edo period (1600 to 1868). However, since WW2 a variation known as creative kokeshi have begun to appear. These dolls have more img_2582sophisticated features and costumes, as suggested by this kokeshi hashioki with her apple red cheeks and dandelion painted on her body. Creative kokeshi sometimes have bobble heads, and sometimes come in pairs, including bride and groom pairs that sometimes serve as wedding cake toppers.

Why not?

My husband and I had lunch recently at our local Noodles & Company, a fast food chain that specializes in Italian and Asian noodle-based dishes. He had the Japanese Pan Noodles with marinated steak, and I had the Thai Curry Soup with tofu.

Beverages and condiments are self-serve at Noodles & Company, and while we were filling our drink cups and picking up napkins, chopsticks and hot sauce before heading to our table I noticed a container of brightly colored plastic objects wrapped in cellophane. Iimg_2626 couldn’t resist picking one up. Okay, maybe I picked up more than one; I’m a collector at heart, apparently. Anyway, when I looked more carefully at the package at our table I discovered it was a “Chopstick Buddy,” two plastic collars that are linked together so you can slip them over a pair of chopsticks so they stay together, and theoretically help you learn how to eat with chopsticks.

I’m impressed that Noodles & Company have stepped up to the task of teaching their customers how to use chopsticks. But I couldn’t help thinking: why doesn’t somebody do this with chopstick rests? It would be easy for a restaurant to hand out small plastic hashioki wrapped in cellophane bags; maybe they could even print advertising on them, or inscribe them with fortunes, like fortune cookies in Chinese restaurants. I think chopstick rests would be a very appreciated item, particularly at fast food restaurants where the tables aren’t always cleaned between patrons, and you might not want the tips of your chopsticks to touch anything other than your food and your mouth.

Why not? Seems to me that hashioki wrapped in plastic would be an even better Chopstick Buddy.

Fortune cookies

When I was a kid the fortune cookies delivered with the check at the end of the meal were the highlight of dining at a Chinese restaurant. So maybe you’re like me, and always assumed fortune cookies were a Chinese or Chinese-American invention.

Fortune cookiesBut it turns out fortune cookies may be of Japanese origin. According to Jennifer 8. Lee, a former NY Times reporter and author of the delightful book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, fortune cookies are a descendant of tsijiura senbei, a kind of grilled rice cracker sold outside Shinto shrines in Kyoto.(1)   Tsuijiura is a kind of note, similar to omikuji, with a fortune written on it (please refer to my post “A different kind of tie” from January 2016).   Senbei is the Japanese word for cracker or cookie.

The oldest existent printed reference we have to fortune cookies appears to be a 1878 Japanese book titled Moshiogusa Kinsei Kidan, which features an illustration of a Japanese man, dressed in a kimono and sporting a Japanese topknot, making fortune cookies on a cast iron grill.(2) According to Jennifer Lee, the first company to sell fortune cookies in the US was a Los Angeles confectionary company named Fugetsu-do which was founded by Seiinchi Kito in 1903.

Lee suggests one explanation for the association of fortune cookies with Chinese rather than Japanese food. She reports that a company named Umeya was delivering fortune cookies to 120 Japanese-owned restaurants in the Los Angeles area by the 1930s, and then points out that many of these restaurants actually served Chinese food. Perhaps Japanese immigrants were the first to pair fortune cookies with Chinese food, and then others who opened Chinese restaurants after that time continued the tradition. I can tell you that they don’t serve fortune cookies in restaurants in China.

If reading about fortune cookies has made you hungry to taste them again, there’s a simple Japanese-style recipe for them on Jennifer D’Agostino’s blog. Here’s the link: http://www.jenniferdagostino.ca/blog/2016/4/8/recipe-tsujiura-senbei

If you make them, you can write your own fortunes to insert inside them…. and your fortunes will probably be superior to the ones I’ve been getting from my local Chinese take-out lately.



(1) Lee, Jennifer 8. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. New York: Twelve, 2008, pp 144-150.

(2) jenniferdagostino.ca/blog/2016/4/8/recipe-tsujiura-senbei, downloaded August 29, 2016.


Two are sometimes better than one

Some of the most charming hashioki in my collection are the ones that are pairs.

Two is sometimes betterHashioki sold as pairs are often intended as presents for couples, either as a wedding or shower gift, or perhaps in celebration of an anniversary or new home.

This lovely vintage pair of ginkgo leaves with gilt trim were undoubtedly created for that sort of occasion. Maybe they are intended to symbolize autumn because ginkgo leaves turn yellow in the fall, or to suggest longevity because the ginkgo tree is renown as a living fossil. Or maybe they are intended to represent tradition, because ginko trees line the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and are also planted at shrines and temples throughout Japan. In any case, the wooden box they are packaged in adds to the impact value of the gift, and also protects the fragile rests during storage.

Two is sometimes betterThis romantic pair of white doves that complement each other, but are not identical, were were originally sold at the US retailer Pottery Barn.

Japan is a gift-giving society, and hashioki are undoubtedly presented in pairs to individuals regardless of marital status. Sometimes two gifts are simply better, meaning more impressive or more substantial, than one. This practice is such a recognized tradition that the MalaysianTwo is sometimes better company Royal Selangor, makers of fine pewter giftware that is very popular in Asia, sell their hashioki strictly in pairs. In addition to these finely articulated pair of pea pods, my collection includes pairs of Royal Selangor dragons and koi goldfish.


Two is sometimes better

My favorite pair of paired hashioki is this back and front brace of rabbits purchased in the gift shop of the Westin Miyako Hotel in Kyoto. Even though this is an unsigned mass market product, I appreciate that the designer conceptualized the pair in a fresh way, and made the effort to style the ears so they harmonize but are not identical

Two is sometimes betterSome hashioki twosomes may be unintentional pairs, like this matching set of polka dot dachshunds that are identical in every way except color,



Two is sometimes better

or this pair of baskets that feature the same colors but have slightly different decoration detail.




Hashioki pairs can correlate but have different subject matters, like these two adorable pairs of cats and dogs.

Some “pairs” of hashioki are joined into a single piece, like this parent and child rabbit duo,or these siamese twin pair of rabbits.Of course two-in-one hashioki like these allow a

person to use a “pairs” theme when setting a table, even if you have an odd number of guests.

In that case, two-in-one is significantly better than one.