Senjafuda

Senjafuda could be described as traditional Japanese graffiti. They are essentially name stickers, or calling cards. Senja translates as “thousand shrines” while fuda means “card.” Traditionally about 7 inches long and 2 1/4 inches wide, senjafuda are printed with a person’s name in stylized kanji or characters. These paper slips are then pasted on a surface – a wall, a pillar, a ceiling — at a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple that the person visits. Originally senjafuda were the calling cards of religious pilgrims, and there was notion that the higher the sticker was pasted the more likely the gods were to see it. But today I believe most senjafuda are left by visitors more motivated by something more like “Kilroy was here” than from piety, although the ideal spot remains one that is protected from the weather, difficult to reach, and yet very visible. I don’t know how many senjafuda-wielding pilgrims actually visited 1,000 shrines. Today the slips are usually bundled into packs of 200, which seems like an optimistic goal in itself.

 

TsumagoThis photo shows senjafuda that were pasted on a shrine in Tsumago on the Nakasendo Road in Japan.

 

Of course there are hashioki sporting senjafuda.   This charming quartet of maneki neko comes from an Etsy vendor named Brenda near Yokohama. Instead of names, the senjafuda on these welcoming cats feature phrases that are appropriate good wishes for a new business: auspicious wishes or good luck, strong business, invite luck, and thousands of customers (and yen) will come. I don’t know why they look like they’re sleeping; maybe their eyes are closed so they can concentrate on bringing good luck.

According to Elizabeth Kititani in her book Vanishing Japan:  Traditions, Crafts & Culture, a well-placed senjafuda can last 30 years or more, and the ink that the kanji is written with may eventually be absorbed by the surface where the name sticker is pasted. That would be a very good run of luck for any business or restaurant which would use hashioki like these.

 

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Trump hashioki

The inauguration of the United States’ 45th. President last Friday started me thinking: what would a Trump hashioki look like?

Reportedly everything in a Trump hotel is branded; the bottles of water in the mini fridge say “Trump”, the wine served in the restaurants say” Trump”, even the hand soaps and the toilet paper in the bathrooms say “Trump.” So its only a matter of time until there’s a chopstick rest that says “Trump” makes it debut, too.

I think the chopstick rest shouldn’t just say “Trump” — it should be Trump. So it should be made of five 3D letters T R U M P that will be welded together. It should be heavy, and probably very big: maybe five inches across, roughly twice the size of the usual hashioki? It should be made in America, of course, and fashioned from some material that is the finest available of whatever it is. No recycled or environmentally friendly stuff here, please. It should be red, white and blue. And it should be encrusted with rhinestones, or maybe diamonds, and garishly splattered with gilt paint. I don’t currently own anything that is marked with the Trump brand, but I’m not sure I could resist a Trump hashioki.

While my collection doesn’t include the above and hopefully mythical item, I do have a few elephant hasSorry, but I don’t have any hashioki in the shape of a donkey, the mascot of the Democratic Party. I don’t think there’s a lot of demand for donkey hashioki, even from Democrats.
hioki. The elephant is of course the symbol of the Republican Party. These elephants are decidedly immigrants, probably from Southwest Asia. I think they’re a little nervous about being in the United States right now because they’re not official US citizens. The one on the left is a very subdued shade of brown, probably because he hoping to blend into a crowd. The blue and white one has his trunk curled over his head, almost like he’s trying to look like something other than a Republican…. I mean, elephant. The pieced wooden example is flattened and resigned, but grateful that he sees what’s happening now through an eye that is only a tiny hole drilled in the upper left hand side of his body.

Sorry, but I don’t have any hashioki in the shape of a donkey, the mascot of the Democratic Party. I don’t think there’s a lot of demand for donkey hashioki, even from Democrats.

 

January Daruma

I’ve already written about Daruma (“Daruma,” August 2016), the character also known as Bodhidharma, who is associated with making wishes or setting personal goals every new year.

img_2807I couldn’t resist this Daruma hashioki, because he’s a little bit different from the other Daruma’s in my collection. And because his face has the same expression mine has after I vow to give up pasta and bread, then promise that I’m going to exercise more, every year in early January.

 

I don’t know whether to label this expression anger or unhappiness or resolve, but this is the expression my face wears until my determination fades in… early Feburary. This is probably a good hashioki to use on your table in January so Daruma can suffer with you through the meal.

Of course maybe that’s not why Daruma wears this expression. Maybe he’s frowning because it took him 19 agonizing days to travel from Los Angeles to my home in Indiana. Apparently the eBay vendor who sold this piece shipped it by Pony Express….

Catfish

This hashioki could represent a carp or a koi, or possibly some other kind of fish, but I’ve decided that it’s a catfish (Catfish) due to its’ pronounced barbels. Barbel is the technical term for the fleshy whisker-like protuberances at the corners of the fish’s mouth. The barbels contain the taste buds of the fish, and help the fish find food in murky water, which is undoubtedly particularly useful for bottom-dwelling fish like catfish.

But the question of what kind of fish this piece represents brings up salient point in collecting hashioki. It’s often difficult to precisely identify what fish or flower a chopstick rest is supposed to portray. Hashioki craftsmen are probably more interested in attractiveness than accuracy, and there’s no guarantee that they’re basing their creation on a live model or even a good photo. I’ve spent hours trying to correctly identify some of the pieces in my collection, using the Internet and other resources, and occasionally I have to conclude that a hashioki represents something because I say it does.

So I say this blue and white hashioki portrays a catfish.

I’ve never seen catfish on the menu in a sushi place or other Japanese restaurant, but that may be because they have special powers. Catfish are traditionally believed to have the ability to predict earthquakes, possibly because a Japanese myth sugests those dreaded disasters are caused by the gyrations of a giant mythic namazu or catfish below the surface of the earth.

Another catfish hashioki is featured in my entry on “Kappa” (January 2016).

More tanuki

If you have read my earlier post about tanuki “(Bad Boys,” January 2016), you already know I have a deep and inexplicable fondness for Japan’s indigenous raccoon dogs. Of course my attraction is limited to inanimate versions of tanuki; I suspect the real raccoon dogs in the wild are neither cute nor loveable.

I find it difficult to resist new tanuki hashioki. This pair, one dark brown and one rusty img_2759brown, are obviously resting after a long bout of drinking sake. We know they are tanuki because that’s what the kanji on the wooden ema boards standing beside them means. The kanji hachi (eight) that appears on their pillows is a reference to a folkloric belief that tanuki can shape-shift into eight different disguises to confuse humans who see them and make those humans feel stupid.  I only learned the significance of the hachi reference recently, and I only know two of their alternate forms (tea kettle and monk) so I definitely feel like stupid human.

This tanuki is a bit deceptive. At first I didn’t think it was a tanuki at all; I thought it looked more like a teddy pair or maybe a pig. But all the clerks in the shop where I saw it insisted that it was a tanuki. In my inventory record I describe this as a tanuki monk,img_2748 because it came from a gift shop inside the gates of Enryku-ji, the Buddhist monastery at the summit of Mt. Hiei, northeast of Kyoto. Enryaku-ji is famous for its’ fierce warrior monks who terrorized Kyoto and fire to competing temples during the 16th. century. This tanuki doesn’t look anything like a warrior or a monk, although maybe that’s the proof that it’s a good disguise.

In addition to collecting tanuki hashioki, I like to take photos of the tanuki I see posing outside doorways in Japan. Here are some examples from my most recent trip:

 

 

Now you love tanuki, too — right?