Zodiac

I recently discovered that I am not who I thought I was. What I mean is, I am no longer a Sagittarius.   I am now an Ophiuchus, which is the 13th. constellation which was left out of the original Babylonian zodiac because they wanted 12 signs to coordinate with 12 months. All my life I have read the horoscope for Sagittarius and wondered how it could have so little to do with my personality and my life, so I am not entirely disappointed to be something else now.

tatsu dragon

But I am still a Dragon in the shengxiao, or Chinese zodiac.

Maybe you’ve seen a Chinese zodiac calculator printed on a paper placemat at a Chinese restaurant. People are assigned an animal sign based on the year in which they were born. Dragons were born in 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, and so on. (I will let you guess which of those years I was born). Because I am a dragon I am intelligent, hard working, enthusiastic, and confident. Dragons have some negative characteristics, too, but I prefer to remain discreet about those.

Zodiac hashioki are made in sets of twelve. The examples shown here are from two different sets. One set — the modern looking flat pebble shapes – I purchased as a set. The other set I purchased in pieces over time from different vendors. Both sets were made in Japan; even though it’s the Chinese zodiac, it’s still popular in Japan.

Zodiac

I am married to a man who is a Rabbit. Honestly, this is not how I would describe him. My husband and I are alike in many ways, and undoubtedly more alike most dragons and rabbits.   According to some sites I consulted on the Web, I should have married a man who was a Pig, meaning either 5 years older than me or 7 years younger. I think it’s interesting that Chinese zodiac wisdom believes there should be a considerable age difference between spouses. The truth of the matter is my family would never forgiven me if I had married a pig.

Our three children include a Tiger, a Monkey, and another Dragon.  Is the child who is a Dragon more like her Dragon mother than the other two?  Ehhhhh…. not really.

 

There are eight Chinese zodiac signs that are not represented in my immediate family. They are, along with a one outstanding quality associated with them, as follows:

Rat (wisdom), Ox or Cow (industrious), Horse (forging ahead),

Goat or Ram (unity), Rooster (being constant),

Dog (fidelity), and Pig or Boar (amiability).  All of these pairings seem rather arbitrary, except for the last one:  Snake (flexibility).

 

While I respect tradition, it seems to me that the zodiac is in dire need of an update.  Part of the problem is that most people can no longer identify all these animals;  the other fact is that modern, urban man simply doesn’t relate to animal characteristics.  So I think we need a new zodiac based on another model.  Suggestions?

 

 

 

 

 

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Janken

Everybody in the US knows rock, paper, scissors right? Turns out it’s even bigger in Japan.

JankenKnown as janken in Japanese, rock, paper, scissors was reportedly imported to Japan from China in the 18th. century. According to “Hashi,” someone who posts on the web site Tofugu, janken continues to be popular among Japanese of all ages. In case you think it’s a way of determining disputes by luck or happenstance, you can visit the web site to see a video of a Japanese robot that has a 100% success rate of winning janken versus human opponents: https://www.tofugu.com/janan/janken/.

While I admit I was delighted to see this set for sale, I do have to wonder a bit about using it on a table setting. Are you limited to using it when there are only three diners? What is the host saying when she or he assigns guu (rock), paa (paper) or choki (scissors) to individual guests, or what are those guests saying about themselves if they select these hashioki? If the table is set with these chopstick rests do the diners have to play janken to determine who will serve themselves first, or who has to clean and wash the dishes? Just wondering.

A real Fuji fan

This 5-piece hashioki set in the shape of uchiwa Japanese fans celebrates Mt. Fuji, and also commemorates the work of one of Fuji-san’s greatest admirers, the artist Katsushika Hokusai.

This set is an example of Kiyomizu pottery, meaning ceramics created in an ornate style — notice the touches of golden gilt — first developed on the slopes beneath Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. I’m classifying this post under Collecting, rather than Cultural Expressions (like my other Fuji-san post) because the craftsmanship, the subject matter, and the Hokusai connection made this set a “must have” for my collection.

Fuji fanHokusai was a woodblock print artist during the early 19th. century. His 36-print set entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji are among his most famous prints. During Hokusai’s lifetime travel in Japan was restricted by the government, so “arm chair travel” via woodblock prints was a popular substitute. While Hokusai’s work is fresh and original thanks to his creative framing and emphasis on geometric forms, many of his customers could look at his prints and immediately identify the location because the distribution of similar prints had made them so familiar.

These hashioki are all based on prints from the Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. The first one (above) represents the most famous print in the series, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Fuji fanThe color of the mountain and the stack of thin horizontal clouds indicate that the second hashioki represents the print South Wind, Clear Sky, also known as Red Fuji.

 
Fuji fan

 

The third hashioki shows the other red Fuji in the series. It pays homage to the print that happens to be my favorite, which is entitled Rainstorm Beneath the Summit.

 

 

Fuji fanThe fourth hashioki shows a man constructing the largest wooden tub I can even imagine. It is drawn from the print Fuji View Field in Owari Province. Hokusai actually took a bit of artistic license here, as Owari is 150 miles from Mt. Fuji, and it is not actually possible to see the mountain from there. But as I pointed out in the beginning, his customers didn’t know that.

Fuji fanThe fifth hashioki is based on the print titled Shore of Tago Bay, Eijiri at Tōkaidō. As the name suggests, this location also happens to be a station along the Tōkaidō Road, the highway that ran between Tokyo and Kyoto. One of Hokusai’s contemporaries, Andō Hiroshige, was most famous for his set of 55 prints depicting the Tōkaidō Road. Hiroshige also produced his own series of Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji.

I intend to write more about 5-piece hashioki sets in the future, but for now I’ll just say that being featured in a 5-piece hashioki set essentially certifies what is depicted in a Japanese cultural icon…. not that there’s any doubt that either Fuji san or Hokusai are genuine Japanese cultural icons.

Fuji-san

I have been to Japan about a dozen times, and I have seen Japan’s iconic symbol, Mt. Fuji, only twice.

The first time was when I was riding the shinkansen or bullet train from Kyoto to TokyoScan on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. After the train left Mishima station I was thinking that if it was sunny I might be able to see Mt. Fuji from the train, and then suddenly — wow! there it was. I took a photo. If you look very closely you can just barely make out Mt. Fuji’s cone in the center of the photo.

The second time I saw Mt. Fuji was from the balcony of a Tokyo hotel. I was looking at the sky, and wondering why the sky looked so strange near the horizon. Then I realized I wasn’t looking at sky, I was looking at mountain. By the time I stepped into the hotel room to grab my camera Mt. Fuji had disappeared behind the clouds or the pollution.

Fuji sanIt’s not that I haven’t tried hard enough. I’ve been to Hakone, the area that Mt. Fuji presides over twice, and never seen the mountain. I’ve ridden the cable car which promises “dramatic Mt. Fuji views” and ridden on the ersatz pirate ship that suggests you will see both the mountain and its reflection in Lake Ashi, and still no luck. I have a handful of photos where you can see me standing in front of a sign reading “Mt. Fuji Overlook” and a wall of clouds.

Even though I haven’t had a lot of visual observation, I’ve had a lot of emotional Fuji sanobservation of Mt. Fuji. In Hakone you can sense its’ presence, and the few glimpses I’ve had made me feel its’ power. I can’t help but think that when Steven Speilberg wrote the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and he had his characters create duplicates of the mountain where the encounters would take place out of mashed potatoes and other substances even though they hadn’t seen the mountain yet, that he was really thinking about Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji, popularly know as Fuji-san (using an honorific form of address) in Japan, is at 12,389 feet the highest mountain in Japan. It is the 35th. highest mountain in the world. Fuji-san is a dormant volcano, and last erupted at the beginning of the 18th. century. In 2012 UNESCO add Mt. Fuji to its list of World Heritage Cultural Sites, noting that it has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.”

As you can see from the photos here, Mt. Fuji has also inspired hashioki makers — especially since 2013. And while my viewings of the real Mt. Fuji have been limited, I have obviously compensated by making my Fuji-sama hashioki collection exhaustive.