This hashioki is in the shape of a Chinese accessory used to rest the tips of the soft-haired brushes that are used for writing calligraphy of creating ink wash sumi-e paintings. Brush rests allow the user to use and safely rest multiple brushes while creating a work of art.
While I occasionally see brush rests being sold as chopstick rests, I think this hashioki is truly a hashioki because it is smaller than most brush rests, and it only has two grooves while real brush rests often have three or four.
I like that this hashioki and most brush rests are in the shape of mountain peaks, because mountains are such an important element in Japan’s geography, and often are featured in ink wash paintings.
Morning glories (asagao) were originally imported from China for their medicinal purposes. In Japan the blossoms open before dawn, and fade by mid morning. This flower was immortalized by Lady Murasaki in The Tale of Genji when her dashing hero courts Princess Asagao. The lady rejects Geni’s advances, inspiring him to write a poem suggesting she, too, was past her bloom. Later in the novel Genji approaches Princess Asagao again, wondering if she had perhaps bloomed again.
In Elizabeth Kiritani’s wonderful 1995 book, Vanishing Japan: Traditions Crafts and Cultures, which is unfortunately now out of print, she writes about the Iriya Market, a three-day market held in early July near Ueno Park that officially marked the beginning of summer for Tokyo residents during the Meiji (1868-1912) era. The market featured morning glories in every possible color, including colors such as “shrimp-tea” (ebi cha) that I have never seen in morning glories. According to the Internet, the market is still held, and in fact is referred to as Iriya Asagao Matsuri, or Morning Glory Festival. Last year the market featured 100 stalls and 120 flower producers.
The vast majority of hashioki are made from some sort of ceramic material, like these examples of fine china or porcelain, or this striated clay handmade example by a contemporary artisan.
Many scholars believe that Japan has the world’s oldest ceramic tradition; carbon dating of archeological discoveries suggest that the production of ceramics in Japan may have began as early as 10,000 BCE (1). So it seems appropriate that most hashioki are made from ceramics.
But hashioki have been fashioned from many other materials, including materials that are traditional and materials that are more modern.
The examples above on the left are fashioned from a wood core which is thin covered with repeated coats of a film-thin lacquer made from the sap of the urushi tree. The one on the right is a plastic imitation of this technique.
Trees are traditionally objects of reverence in Japan, so various kinds of wood, including (left to right, top to bottom) maple, rosewood, cherry tree wood and bark, teak, coconut tree wood, and bamboo are popular materials for hashioki.
Sometimes hashioki made from washi, the Japanese paper made from the bark of a variety of trees and shrubs. The resulting product is stronger than paper made from wood pulp, and often more textured than standard paper. Despite its strength, paper hashioki like these made from patterned chiyogami (“1000 generation paper”) is usually coated with a clear protective coating.
Hashioki are sometimes made from machine-printed paper, like this example of pre-printed origami hashioki that look like animals. In fact, the most common hashioki are made from printed paper — specifically, from the printer wrappers that protect disposable chopsticks.
Some of the other materials represented in my collection include: (first row) silver and gold metal, hammered tin, stainless steel, (second row) glass, nephrite or jade, granite, (third row) marble, polished quartz, slate, (fourth row) animal horn, bone, mother of pearl, (fifth row) hard plastic, soft silicone plastic, and concrete.
The last examples prove that hashioki continue to evolve, incorporating modern materials while still making a nod to tradition.
Finally, these natural stone pebbles demonstrate that nature can be a skilled hashioki creator. The one on the right comes from from Nobu, the restaurant of master chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In addition to using these pebbles at their place settings, Nobu features them in a beautiful rock wall on one side of the restaurant. The pebble hashioki with the interesting color variations on the right is from Ippudo, a famous Japanese ramen restaurant which happens to have a branch in midtown Manhattan.
Of course this catalog of materials is far from exhaustive; imagination and creativity are the only limits to the kinds of materials that can be used to create hashioki.
Dalby, Liza, et al. All-Japan: The Catalogue of Everything Japanese. New York: Quill, 1984, p, 20.
In the United States April is known as the month of showers, at least anecdotally, so it seems appropriate to start the month off with a post about umbrellas.
In Japan, a country which receives 60 or more inches of rainfall a year, a kasa or umbrella is of course a very familiar item. These hashioki appears to be a kind of traditional Japanese umbrella, known as a wagasa, which are made from lacquered bamboo ribs which do not bend or curve, and then covered with paper which has been oiled on the bottom side to make it waterproof.
Wagasa are frequently used as props in kabuki plays. They are also a popular design motif in Japanese textiles, ceramics and lacquerware. Wagasa also sometimes play a supporting role in ukiyo-e; artists such as Hiroshige depicted twisted or flattened umbrellas to convey the power of a strong rain storm in woodblock prints.
In Buddhism umbrellas are sometimes used in a procession, as this photo taken in October 2016 at Enryku-ji on Mt. Hiei shows. In this case the red umbrella symbolizes spiritual power, and is held over the head of the person regarded as the wisest man in the procession.
Last but not least, umbrellas make a pretty good hashioki, too.