Kachoufugetsu

Kachoufugetsu is a yoji-jukugo, meaning four Japanese kanji or characters grouped together to make an idiom, well-known phrase, or poem. They were originally created for practicing calligraphy. There are thousands of yoji-jukugo in the Japanese language, and they are often used as a kind of short cut to describe a particular kind of item or subject matter. Examples include nichibeikankei (nichi Japan + bei United States + kankei relations) and reikishishōsetsu (rekishi history + shōsetsu novel).

Kachoufugetu is one of the most famous yoji-jukugo. The characters used in its composition are the kanji for flower, bird, wind, and moon. These four hashioki are their representatives, and would probably be recognized as such by many Japanese. It can be translated as “Experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so learn about yourself.”

For me Kachoufugetsu will always have a meaning beyond that poem. In November 2016, when I was in Japan, I visited the famous pottery village of Arita in Kyushu. I was there on a Sunday afternoon, which was unfortunate because almost everything was closed. One of the few shops that was open had a large tray of assorted hashioki priced at 200 JPY each, or less than  2.00 USD.  I spent a long time sifting through the mound of cheap hashioki, but frankly none of them really appealed to me. However I did feel some sort of attraction to pieces in the pile in the shape of a flower, a bird head, a quarter moon, and a cloud or gust of wind. I couldn’t figure out why I felt drawn to these hashioki, and I was reluctant to buy them because they didn’t seem very unusual. But in the end I did buy the one (above) that I now know is a symbol for wind.

I figured it out when I got home; before I left on my trip I had seen a kachoufugetsu set for sale on the Internet at a price 5 or 6 times what I would have paid for the same set in Arita. I didn’t know what ‘kachoufugetsu” meant at that point, so I didn’t buy it. But thanks to finding the $2.00 wind piece in Arita I was able to assemble an almost identical kachoufugetsu set from my inventory.

If there is a yoji-jukugo which describes that collecting experience, it’s four characters that somehow convey “Follow your instincts.”

Deceiving appearances

Deceiving appearancesWhile this adorable little guy looks like he or she should be singing a catchy tune in a cartoon movie, this hashioki actually represents the dreaded fugu, or Japanese pufferfish.

Fugu are famous for inflating their bodies with sea water to make themselves look bigger to a predator, and for producing a poison called tetrodotoxin, which can paralyze the muscles of anyone who consumes their flesh. Every year in Japan dozens of people are hospitalized with fugu poisoning, and a few even die from asphyxiation. Despite the risk, fugu is considered a great delicacy, and there are a number of fugu restaurants with specially licensed chefs that serve it in Japan. Needless to say, a meal of fugu sashimi or tempura is very expensive.

Fugu translates as “river pig,” and in real life fugu look exactly like that: ugly, withDeceiving appearances sagging bellies, and pinched faces.

In addition to wondering why anyone would want to risk eating fugu, you might also care to ponder why anyone (other than an obsessive collector) would purchase fugu hashioki.

I have to wonder why anyone would want to set your table with fugu hashioki. Could it be that you’re trying to warn your guests that the food you’re about to serve may be poisoned? Because you wish it was poisoned? Or because you secretly fantasize about your guests enduring a slow and horrible death at your dining room table where they are fully awake but can’t breathe?Deceiving appearances

In any case, it’s a good bet that anyone who sets their table with a fugu hashioki does not regularly entertain the Emperor of Japan. Fugu is the one food he is forbidden by law to eat.

Oribe

How cool is it to have a style of pottery named after you?

That is exactly what happened to Furuta Oribe  (1544-1615).  He  was a Japanese tea master and student of Sen no Rikyū, the famous Japanese aesthete who is credited Oribewith popularizing the tea ceremony. When tea drinking and the tea ceremony became very popular in Japan during the late 1500s and early 1600s there was suddenly a huge demand for ceramics to use with tea, and therefore an explosion of new pottery production.

 

Sen no Rikyū apparently preferred very formal and refined ceramics that were Oribeimported from China. But his student Furuta Oribe preferred Japanese ceramics, specifically ones that he thought had a modern and much different look.

Oribe pottery is characterized by unevenly applied splotches of copper-green glaze against a pale or  white background, with shapes or geometic figures painted in brown on top. The pieces are often molded instead of thrown on a pottery wheel, and in larger pieces you can sometimes see the imprint of the cloth that was used the line the mold. Many of the most prized pieces have distorted or Oribeirregular shapes, and variety and individuality are prized over uniformity. Sets of Oribe ware that coordinate but do not match, like this 5-piece set of hashioki, are common.

Oribe is undoubtedly prized because its vivid green glaze coupled with brown and white accents evokes nature. It is a distinctive style of decoration, and is said to have been the first use of color glaze in Japanese ceramics.

Tsunami hashioki

On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 earthquake occurred beneath the Pacific Ocean about 40 miles each of the northern portion of the main island of Japan. The earthquake was later judged to be the most powerful earthquake ever experienced in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since1900, when records started being kept.

The earthquake created a tsunami with waves as high as 130 feet. A report issued in March 2015 reported that 15,894 people died, 6,152 people were injured, and 2,562 people remain missing. Over 125,000 buildings were completely destroyed, and many more buildings, highways, rail lines and one nuclear plant were severely damaged.

Tsunami hashiokiI think of this hashioki as my Tsunami hashioki. It was found on the beach on the eastern coast of northern Japan after the tsunami by an Etsy vendor who lives in Sendai. There is no way of knowing whether this piece comes from a plate or a bowl that was swept out into the ocean by the tsunami, but it is clear that the sea and the sand have polished this shard into a poignant reminder of the power of nature.

Christina, the woman who found this piece, has given me permission to share on this blog some photos that she took from her house after the tsunami. Looking at them reminds me of the horror that swept through me when I first heard about the tsunami six years ago, and the apprehension I continue to feel when I hear that another earthquake or tsunami warning has been issued in Japan.

Tsunami

Tsunami

It’s ironic that a country that produces so many delicate works of art can be ravaged by the brutal strength of nature.