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.