Atlhough maples are the trees most associated with autumn in Japan, the acorn (donburi) is a fall symbol, too.
I always thought that acorns belonged strictly to oak trees. But it turns out that in Japan many kinds of trees produce acorns, although most of them are members of the oak family.
And of course wherever there are acorns, there are squirrels.
Acorns must be beloved in Japan, because there’s a well-known children’s song titled “Donburi Korokoro” about an acorn that rolls into a pond to play with the fish there. But I’ve never seen a hashioki that pairs an acorn with a fish.
I have been waiting all summer to post about my autumn-themed hashioki. Now I’m going to start with a salute to autumn by writing about maple leaves.
Maple leaves – momiji – are the ultimate symbol of autumn, not just in Japan but everywhere.
Why does everyone love momiji? Maybe it’s because they often turn an irresistibly brilliant shade of red. Maybe it’s because they’re almost (almost) like a star. The Japanese have a special affection for things in sets of 5, and many momiji have five main or larger points that number five.
This hashioki didn’t grow on a maple tree; its’ inspiration was created inside a Japanese wagashi or sweet shop. One of the ways the Japanese express their heightened awareness of the changing seasons is to celebrate that change with foods shaped like the emblems of that season: maple leaves and plum blossoms and cherry blossoms. A real wagashi like this is probably filled with bean paste, and is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
Many of Japan’s most famous tourist destinations – Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura, Kyoto, Arashiyama, and Koyasan, to name just a few, are celebrated for their wonderful displays of momiji. Maybe that’s another reason why people love maple leaves in Japan; they provide a good excuse to hop on the train or hop in the car and for road trip during the month of October.
But sometimes I buy things because some unknown mysterious inner force compels me to acquire them. Usually it’s a new lipstick or a candy bar, but in this case it was a kappa hashoki for my collection.
I’m not sure what it was that drew me to this kappa. I might say that his pose is particularly languid, or that the expression on his face especially winsome. I appreciate that someone bothered to make the crown of his hat white, the leaf cape on his back, and his loincloth – so reminiscent of the mawashi that sumo wrestlers wear – brown. I have other kappa hashioki, and I have even posted about them here in January 2016.
But this kappa is ichiban – the best.
I do have to add here that I have a particular affinity for character hashioki: kappa, tanuki, maneki neko, Daruma, Okame, and all the others. Using them on the dining room table is like sitting down with my most delightful Japanese friends.
These adorable owl (fukuro) hashioki belie their folkloric heritage. According to scholar Merrily Baird, in Japan the owl is a symbol of evil and considered to be a omen of death. Baird reports that in China this nocturnal bird was once considered a kind of guardian of darkness, but that its’ image somehow changed, and it was viewed with dislike. She also writes that there was a belief in China that young owls ate their mothers, which was naturally viewed as the ultimate act of filial betrayal. Like many other beliefs, this owl folklore was eventually passed from China to Japan (1).
But it looks like the makers of hashioki somehow missed these transmissions.
(1) Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2001, pp. 113-114.
This hashioki depicts a traditional Japanese cast iron tea kettle known as a tetsubin.
If you’ve dined in a Japanese restaurant, or shopped in a tea store or shop that carries Asian tableware, you’ve probably encounter tetsubin before. Although they are much heavier than their ceramic cousins, some people prefer cast iron teapots for a number of reasons. They heat faster because entire metal body absorbs the heat Because their entire metal body absorbs the heat from a flame, these teapots heat faster and stay warm longer. When you steep tea leaves in a tetsubin the tea leaves floating in the water are surrounded by heat, which some feel helps to extract the maximum flavor of the tea. It may also help the tea leaves release their nutrients, meaning that the health benefits of the tea leaves is enhanced. Finally, you might dent a cast iron teapot, but you probably can’t break it.
Ironically this hashioki isn’t made of cast iron itself; it’s ceramic. I have a cast iron hashioki in the shape of Mt. Fuji, so it would have been possible. I guess it just wasn’t convenient.
Forget about matchbooks and refrigerator magnets; a chopstick rest embossed with the name of your restaurant or store makes the best advertising novelty.
This hashioki is from a restaurant Beijing famous for its Peking Duck; the name of the restaurant is written in Chinese characters on the side. If it had been up to me I would have made my signature give-away in the shape of a brown barbecued duck, because seeing those ducks hanging in a market or in the window of a restaurant in China always makes me crave duck, but…. maybe this version is more aesthetically pleasing.
This hashioki has the name Inagiku stamped on the bottom, which is the name of a famous chain of Japanese restaurants. The restaurant founded in Kyushu in 1866, but in the late 20th. century expanded until it had branches in Macau, the United States, and elsewhere. Inagiku specalized in tempura, as the other word stamped on this fish suggests, although this fish looks like an ayu to me, which is a sweet tasting fresh water fish not usually
used for tempura.
I’ve been told that the reading of the characters on this chopstick rest are zhang zheng ji, and that it’s a family name from Hong Kong, but other than that I have no idea what this logo signifies. Chances are it’s the name of a company in Hong Kong, maybe one connected to serving ware or food. Even though I am forced to admit my ignorance, I included it here to illustrate some of the challenges identifying items from a culture where you only speak a few words of the language.
I can read the hiragana on this bottle-shaped hashioki — it reads Toiichi — but I don’t know if it’s the name of a restaurant or a brand of sake. It could even be the first name of a past owner.
And I can definitely read the writing on this last advertising hashioki. It’s my favorite advertising hashioki because it invokes the city of Pittsburgh, where my daughter, son-in-law, grandson and father all live. The H. J. Heinz Company was founded in Pittsburgh in 1869, and is a world wide producer of pickles, ketchup, and other food products. But of course I didn’t buy the hashioki in Pittsburgh; I bought it in an Osaka department store.
It surprises me that I haven’t seen more fune or boat hashioki in Japan, an island country surrounded by water. Maybe it’s because Japan was never very interested in being a naval power, or in sailing beyond the relatively short distances to Korea, Taiwan, and China.
In any case, the most common boat hashioki is this yakatabune, or roofed boat. This kind of “pleasure boat” is still used today for evening parties on rivers in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka where food and alcohol are served, and karaoke or other musical entertainment is provided.
This bamboo hashioki is from Arashiyama, just outside Kyoto, where there is a beautiful bamboo forest. It is similar to the boats used in commorant fishing. This is done at night, and the cross boards which extend over the sides of the boat are used to support lanterns to attract the fish, and also to give large cormorant birds a place to perch while they’re waiting for the fish to appear. The cormorants dive into the water and capture the fish in their beaks, but don’t swallow because they wear a collar which constricts their throat. The fisherman pulls the bird and its catch back to the boat with the help of a leash attached to its collar. While this may be a traditional fishing technique, today the real catch are the tourists who pay to ride on the cormorant boats.
The boat on the left is probably the most famous boat in Japan. The kanji on the sail means takara, or treasure, identifying this boat as a takarabune, or treasure ship, which is said to carry the shichi fukujin, or seven gods of good fortune, every year at the New Year celebration. Takarabune are almost always shown with the seven gods spilling over their decks, but I suppose that was too much detail for this hashioki artist to capture. (For other examples of takarabune please see the” Seven Lucky Gods” post in August 2017).
Rafts don’t seem to have much of a history in Japan, maybe because the rivers are generally so swift. However, we can definitely see a man poling his raft across a river or stream in the celadon example on the right. But the blue raft with the floral decorations may or may not not be a floating vessel at all; perhaps it is meant to suggest the bamboo mat that the flower container in ikebana arrangements sometimes “floats” on.
This onigawara, or demon roof tile, is a specialized example of a Japanese ceramic roof tile. Onigawara were placed at the ends of a tiled roof ridge as a kind of charm to scare away bad luck or evil spirits.
The Japanese have used ceramic roof tiles since the late 6th. century; they are said to have been imported from Korea and China with Buddhism.
In addition to being both waterproof and wind resistant, clay roof tiles are durable. They can last for hundreds of years. Tiles manufactured today often help conserve energy because they are reflective, and some are designed to resist earthquake damage. As much as fifty percent of Japanese houses still have ceramic tiles.
The tile above depicts some sort of a gable ornament used at the top of a roof, and the hashioki to the right portrays the end or bottom tilesof a roof hip, which are the diagonal ridges that gently slope from the top ridge to the bottom.
I live in a house with flat fiberglass roof tiles, which seems pretty boring when I compare it with Japanese tile roofs. I especially like the idea of imbedding a good luck charm on our roof, maybe one that could protect us from tornadoes in Indiana.
Shichifukujin, literally meaning “seven lucky people,” are Japan’s version of the seven dwarfs. They are even short in stature, not only in hashioki, but in other formats, too. All Japanese instantly recognize shichifukujin, and everyone knows their names…. well, everyone can probably remember most if not all of their names, just like the seven dwarfs in the Snow White fairy tale. They are the most popular deities in Japan, and so beloved that many consider them to be both Buddhist and Shinto.
It’s hard to find a complete set of shichifukujin hashioki. But Daikokuten (red hat) and Ebisu (blue hat) are pretty easy to find; they’re the most popular, and they often appear as a pair.
I found these wonderful 3D versions of Daikokuten, Ebisu and Benzaiten in a shop in San Francisco’s Japantown. I know they are part of a complete set of seven were originally produced by Toshikane Art Porcelain, and I still hold out hope that I’ll find the four other pieces from that set some day.
I did find a complete 7-piece shichifukujin set on eBay in 2014. It’s not a great set, but it is complete.
From left to right, these hashioki show Daikokuten, with his signature red hat. Daikokuten is one of the ring leaders of the shichifukujin. He is a god of wealth and of the harvest; in this hashioki you can see the big bag of rice slung over his shoulder. Daikokuten often carries an uchide no kozuchi, or lucky mallet, which has the power to make wishes come true.
In the center above is Ebisu, who is Daikokuten’s frequent companion. He is the god associated with laborers and fishermen; he has a fishing pole slung over one shoulder and clutches a large tai or sea bream under his other arm. Ebisu is said to be the happiest of the shichifukujin, and the only one of seven to have a Japanese origin; the others are versions of Indian or Chinese deities. If you’ve traveled to Tokyo, Ebisu’s name probably sounds familiar. A Japan beer company borrowed his name and image for their product, and did so well that they built a train station to facilitate shipping. This station is today the Ebisu stop on the Yamanote commuter rail line that circles Tokyo.
Benzaiten, above on the right, is the only female member of the shichifukujin. She is the goddesss of everything that flows: music, as suggested by the biwa or lute she holds here, and dance, suggested by the ribbon behind her, and poetry and words. She is also the goddess of water, and shrines dedicated to Benzaiten are usually located near ponds or other bodies of water.
Fukurokuju is literally the god for happiness (fuku), wealth (roku) and longevity (ju). Some say he has the ability to revive the dead. He has a very high forehead and a long beard, and usually carries a staff and a copy of the Lotus Sutra, one of the most revered Buddhist scriptures.
Hotei is the god of happiness and contentment. He laughs so hard that he doesn’t care if his huge belly bulges out of his robe. Hotei is bald and has big ear lobes, and often carries an uchiwa or fan which has wish-granting powers.
Bishamonten (spelled here as Bisyamonten), is a warrior god who chases away foreign invaders and safeguards worshippers. He is often shown carrying a spear; sometimes he carries a pogoda which represents the treasures he distributes.
Jurojin (or Jyuroujin), on the left, is probably the god people tend to forget, because he is the least distinctive. He is also the one who isn’t on everyone’s list; sometimes he is replaced in the shichifukujin lineup by Kichijōten, a female god of fertility. Maybe this is because Jurojin is almost identical to Fukurokuju — he has the same high forehead, carries a staff and a scroll, and is considered to be a god of longevity (1)
Japan’s shichifukujin travel together on a takarabune, or treasure ship. The image of the shichifukujin crammed onto the prow of a takarabune, printed on a piece of paper, is what Japanese children slip under their pillow when they go to bed on on the night of December 31 to ensure that the first dream of the new year will be lucky (2). Another example of a takarabune is included in a future posts about Boats (September 2017).
(1) Calli, Joseph and John Dougill. Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013, pp. 16-17.
(2) Kodansha International. Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 2. New York: Kodansha International, 1993, p. 1354.
At first glance these hashioki don’t seem to reflect the Japanese style aesthetic. But I have to admit I was drawn to these pieces by the portrait of the full-bodied rather earthy woman that is Kannon, just as I am drawn by Okame and Otafuku (“Okame” January 2016 and “What is it about this woman? August 2016 posts), Ono no Komachi (“Rokkasen” post in September 2016), and Benzaiten (“Seven lucky gods” post this month).
I will say that the shape of these pieces is a little unusual for hashioki; they are a little big to simply use to rest the tips of your chopsticks. They may be a combination hashioki and tiny sauce bowl, good for serving a small serving of soy sauce or perhaps a tiny pickle. The green indentations on each side almost make me think they could be miniature ashtrays, except I can’t imagine putting out a cigarette on the body of a Buddhist deity. The grooves must be the for chopstick tips, right?