The inscription on this blue hashioki reads “neko ni koban,” which is a Japanese phrase that translates as “gold coins to a cat.” While a cat may may be attracted to a shiny gold coin, it really doesn’t understand what money is or how to use it. Therefore, the proverb is really a comment about someone coveting something they have no use for.
This hashioki is one of two purchased by my daughter Mollie in a store in Seattle in March 2008. The other one features a devil or demon, and will be featured in a future post on oni. Because both pieces featured a maxim I assume they were part of a larger set of other characters and proverbs. One of the frustrations of collecting hashioki is that because they are small, and because they are items that were actually used, pieces that were once part of a larger set sometimes appear to get separated.
More than six years after Mollie purchased this pair I had a minor victory; I found five matching pieces for sale by a vendor from Tokyo on eBay. One of the pieces in his set was in fact the Oni piece described above. The other pieces were (left to right) Urashima Tarō, Kintarō, Kaguyahime and Momotarō, all folk heroes that were described in previous posts.
The gold coin or koban that is featured in the cat hashioki above was a kind of currency that was circulated during the Edo or Tokugawa period. This hashioki reproduces a particular coin known as a Keichō koban, which was used between 1601 and 1695. I can’t resist including that fascinating tidbit here simply to demonstrate how the Internet has changed research; I was able to discover my koban hashioki was a reproduction of an actual coin less than minute after I typed “koban” into my search engine. I also learned that counterfeit koban were a problem during the Edo period, although probably no one would have been fooled by this ceramic version with a base and the inscription of the manufacturer on the bottom.