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).


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