All in the details

I appreciate these four hashioki because I had to be a bit of a sleuth to assemble them.

All in the detailsI purchased the first one, a hashioki showing two garden lanterns, in July 2015 from an eBay vendor in Thailand. More than a year later I purchased the other three from a different vendor in Thailand, or the same vendor with a new screen name.


While the hashioki with the garden lanterns and the one with the bridge railing could be anywhere in Japan, the other two specifically evoke Kyoto to me. The hashioki with the pagoda undoubtedly represents Toji Temple, one of the symbols of Kyoto, while the one with the red porch on stilts is positively Kiyomizu Temple.

The pieces are hand painted, and do not appear to be mass-produced. My guess is that they date from the 1940s or 1950s. They appear to be, in other words, the mid-20th. Century pieces that I prize as a collector.

I’m sure that these four pieces are only part of a set or series; I’m still on the lookout for their mates.



FireworksHanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks. In Japanese it is written with the kanji character for flower, and the kanji for fire, which seems like a pretty good way to describe them.

Firework displays are popular all over Japan throughout the summer months, and almost every summer festival features fireworks. This hashioki comes from Kyoto, home to some of the most spectacular firework displays. Summers are hot and muggy in Japan, so it’s always a good idea to bring a fan to a fireworks display, making this fan-shaped hashioki even more appropriate.

Happi coat

Summer is happi coat time in Japan.

A happi coat is a short and loose cotton jacket with wide sleeves that usually has a mon or crest on the back. Happi coats were originally worn by servants, and carried the crest of the family they worked for. Firefighters also wore a kind of padded happy coat for protection. Today happi coats are often worn to summer festivals, and identify the wearers as members of a club or neighborhood association. Sometimes you see waiters wearing them, too.

Happi coatThis happi coat hashioki is decorated with a tomoe, a traditional Japanese abstract swirl that appear to incorporte magatama, comma-shaped beads that date to the prehistoric era in Japan.

Unfortunately a happi coat is not guaranteed to make you happy. “Happi” is actually the pronunciation for the two kanji used to write the name of the garment. There are two ways to write the word, both using two kanji characters. In one the first kanji signifies “half,” while in the other the kanji signifies “method or system.” In both versions the second kanji is the same, and means “shelter or wear.”

Of course wearing a happi coat might make you happy…..



Fine Art and Pandas

Fine Art PandaI know this hashioki is an example of fine art, because I purchased it in the gift shop of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which has one of the finest collections of Japanese art in the United States. And the Boston Museum of Fine Arts wouldn’t sell anything other than fine art, right?


It is a pudgy but cute example of a giant panda bear.

The giant panda, usually simply called panda, are native to south central China. They were once classified an endangered species in wild, but thanks to successful breeding and release programs into the wild in China they have now been upgraded to merely vulnerable. They look huggable, but since an adult panda can weigh up to 300 lbs. they are probably not good for cuddling.

Pandas are one of everyone’s favorite exhibits at zoos. In the United States you can see them at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and the San Diego Zoo, and occasionally other zoos. There are also pandas on display at 3 zoos in Japan, including the Ueno Park Zoo. The pair of pandas at the Ueno Zoo may have mated this spring. If they produce 1 or 2 offspring, there will undoubtedly be an explosion of panda hashioki in Japan next year.

Opener of Japan

Opener of JapanI labeled this hashioki with the title above the moment I saw it on a shelf in a small shop on a back street in Tokyo.

It appears to depict a Western man dressed in nineteenth century clothing. It may represent Commodore Matthew C. Perry, the American admiral whose ships sailed to Japan in 1853 and 1854, and who signed the treaty that opened Japan’s ports and borders to foreigners following more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation. The man is dressed in the colors of the American flag, making it an appropriate post for the week before the Fourth of July. And on July 8, 1853, when Perry entered Edo Bay near present-day Tokyo, he commanded his ships to fire blanks from their cannons, obstensively to celebrate United States’ Independence Day, but more likely as a show of force for the Japanese. So Perry has a definite connection to the Fourth of July.

But I prefer to think that this figure represents someone more like Ernest Fenollosa or William Sturgis Bigelow, Americans who traveled to Japan after Perry and brought Japanese art back to the States to display in American museums. (Curiously enough, both Fenollosa and Bigelow had beards, like this hashioki, but Perry did not.) Many Americans first experienced Japan by looking at a woodblock print or a statue of a buddha in museum. My mind was certainly opened to Japan by the Japanese art I saw as a teenager at the great museums of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

In either case, the piece is a bit unusual. It represents either an American who dictated policy to the Japanese government, or an American who removed art treasures from the country to display in a foreign museum. It may be an attractive and unique piece, but I’m not sure that it’s really politically correct.