While 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, with 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?
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.