Four seasons

As I write this post the temperature in South Central Indiana is 31 degrees Fahrenheit, DSC01082and my least favorite four-letter word (s-n-o-w) may be in the forecast.  So, it’s reassuring to focus on this lovely set of Japanese hashioki which show the four seasons, and to remind myself that spring is coming.

I like this set because it exemplifies attention to detail.  The tops are slightly curved to keep the tips of the chopsticks from sliding off, and the surfaces are glazed so they are easy to clean.

The designs are combine beauty and whimsy, and each one features a nature element (flowers, flowing water or leaves) and an iconic symbol from the reason (a bunny, a butterfly, fans, and a dragonfly).  Maybe these symbols aren’t iconic in the West, but in Japan they are well-recognized symbols for Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn.

I also like this set because it reminds me of one of my favorite Japanese novels, Sasameyuki (translated into English as The Makioka Sisters) by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.

The Makioka Sisters follows the lives of four upper-middle-class sisters in Osaka from the mid 1930’s until the early 1940’s.  The specter of war haunts the book as these four adult women dress in elaborate kimonos, go to dance recitals and dine in Western restaurants, make their annual pilgrimage to view cherry blossoms at a famous site, and so on.  The family fortune has declined, which changes the social and economic position of the family, and the reader comes to realize that the decline of this family echoes the downward spiral of Japanese society.

DSC01083When I look at these four hashioki I see the four Makioka sisters.  The winter piece evokes Tsuruko, the oldest sister, the rather stern and uptight head of the family, who also has a house full of young children.  The spring hashioki suggests Sachiko, the second sister, theDSC01084 stylish but somewhat superficial matron who focuses on pleasant pastimes while the world around her crumbles.



DSC01085The summer piece personifies Yukiko, the third sister, who is the most traditional and most reserved member of the family.  The family’s attempts to arrange a marriage for Yukiko, and the progression of unsuccessful miai where she is introduced to prospective husbands forms the backbone of the novel.  The autumn hashioki represents Taeko, the youngest and
DSC01086wildest sister, who during the novel changes almost as completely as leaves turn in autumn.  Taeko starts her own business, attempts to elope, becomes pregnant out of wedlock by another man, and ultimately starts living with a man who is far different from the kind of man her family wished she would marry.

In other words, The Makioka Sisters is a Japanese soap opera.

The Makioka Sisters fascinates me because it chronicles such a dynamic period in modern Japanese history, a period when modernization and Westernization really clashed with traditional mores, including nationalistic militarism.  Tanizaki essentially went into seclusion during WW2;  to occupy himself he worked on a project that the Japanese military machine would not have considered politically correct, a modern Japanese language version of The Tale of Genji.  When it was published after the war this publication enabled many Japanese to read a previously-inaccessible classic of Japanese literature, which probably helped to preserve some more peaceful Japanese traditions.

Sachiko may not be my favorite Makioka sister, but as I sit here shivering the spring hashioki is my favorite from this set.


Blue & white ceramics


White porcelain which has been decorated with indigo blue designs, then glazed with a shiny transparent finish, have long been associated with Asian ceramics.


In Japan this kind of ceramics is known as sometsuke, which is written with the kanji character meaning “to dye.”  Pottery featuring blue on white designs was once imported to Japan from China, but in the early 1600s sometsuke began to be produced in the pottery town of Arita on the island of Kyushu by the Korean potters who immigrated there.  In Japan the blue decorations were reportedly made from mixing cobalt with green tea. (1)

Blue and white pottery often features intricate symmetrical or repeated designs, patterns (like the ones on the left above) that suggest that this ceramic style actually originated in Iraq as some scholars believe.  Many sometsuke pieces also suggest indigo dyed textiles.  Blue and white designs sometimes enliven pieces in IMG_3660traditional shapes, like the jar, rice scoop, scroll and rolled document shown here on the upper right, or adorn familiar pieces like musical instruments.  Many also depict landscapes.


In Japan blue and white ceramics often have an asymmetrical design, or have aIMG_3663 humorous slant.  included here are two of my blue and white favorites:  a folded shape that features a simple hut like the one that once housed the haiku poet Basho (shown at the beginning of this post), and this small cylinder where long blue dashes suggest rain.

(1) Frederic, Louis. Japan Encyclopedia.  Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 901.


In Japanese the word yasumi (休み) means vacation, or recess, or taking a break.

YasumiThat’s exactly what this Daruma hashioki is doing. He’s relaxing; in fact, he’s so relaxed that his stomach is hanging out of his kimono. This hashioki has appeared on my blog before, and it is featured on my blog business cards, because it is one of my favorite pieces. I can almost hear Daruma sigh as he collapses into his yasumi pose.

You can see my other Daruma hashioki in my “Daruma” and “Daruma deconstructed” posts from August 2016, and my “January Daruma” post from January 2017.

I’m going to be following this Daruma’s example, and taking a yasumi of my own from this blog. I’ve been posting for two years, and I enjoy sharing my love for hashioki very much. And I still have many more chopstick rests to share, and things I want to say about them. But I need a yasumi of my own; I’m going to be doing a bit of traveling, and want to make some time available for a different project.

So beginning in January 2018 I will be posting just once a month, at least for a while.


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; theAdvertising 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 areAdvertising5 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.

Advertising2I 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.


Advertising6And 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.


September 11, 2017

Satsuma ware

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?

So we’ll agree to call them chopstick rests.

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.

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.


The first hashioki I ever saw in the shape of a clock was outside a shop along the Sannenzaka (meaning “slope of three years”) below Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. It was IMG_3183embedded in concrete outside a shop that sold ceramics — bowls, plates, and of course chopstick rests. I scoured the inventory of the shop to find another clock hashioki, because it seemed very unique to me, but I had no luck. I did, however, find some other wonderful hashioki there to buy…..

Since that time, roughly ten years ago, I’ve become I loyal customer of Shoindo, the shop described above, both in person and on line thru Rakuten. It has been the source of many lovely pieces. Shoindo has been in business since 1855, and was once a purveyor to the Imperial Household. They specialize in kiyomizu ware, meaning ceramics that were once produced in eastern Kyoto near Kiyomizu Temple. This style of ceramics have a sophisticated style, are handpainted and often embellished with gold, and are made in shapes that are both traditional and yet unique in the marketplace.

If you look at this hashioki you can see that the time is a little bit past 5 o’clock — meaning that it’s time to set the table for dinner. Don’t forget the chopstick rests!

Another museum hashioki

One of the highlights of my trip to Japan in October 2016 was a visit to the Miho Museum near Shigaraki, in Shiga Prefecture, and about an hour outside of Kyoto.

The museum itself was amazing, beginning with a walk or ride though a long tunnel to reach the museum building which is actually partially buried under a mountain. Architect I.M. Pei removed a mountain or hill to create the building site for the museum, and then he returned the dirt, trees and shrubs to restore most of the natural pre-build landscape.   The exhibition space inside the building is superb.   When I was there one of the exhibits was a fabulous display of 18th. century ceramics by Ogata Kenzan which are owned by the same mother and daughter who provided the funding for the museum.

But enough about the museum; this is a blog about hashioki.

img_2783It just so happens that I got a fabulous hashioki at the Miho Museum. It is a handmade, artisan-created hashioki, made by a husband who is a ceramicist and a wife who is a painter. It is signed “Ametsuchi” in hiragana on the bottom. As you can see, it is in the shape of an open book, and the pages are so detailed that you almost think you can turn them. The hashioki features some traditional Japanese design motifs: running grass script, flowers, and a deer. The piece is either one-of-a-kind or maybe one-of-a-few-of-a-kind, which seems very appropriate for a one-of-a-kind museum like the Miho Museum. I don’t know if the piece relates to an item in the museum’s collection (like the hashioki from the MOA Museum in Atami featured in my post “Smart Merchandising” in January 2016), but I treasure it anyway.


Omiyage and meibutsu

In Japan the walkways of major rail stations are lined with shops selling stacks of gift wrapped boxes of cookies or sweets. On some Shinkansen or bullet trains a woman in a uniform pushes a cart down the aisle selling the same kind of boxes. Outside temples and other sightseeing places there are always shop selling key chains and that kind of thing, but there are also shop selling gift wrapped boxes of food. And it’s all part of the Japanese cycle of omiyage and meibutsu.

Technically, omiyage means souvenir. In Japanese it is written with the kanji for “earth” and the kanji for “product,” meaning that it represents a product from a particular part of the earth, or region. But omiyage doesn’t refer to souvenirs that you buy for yourself. It specifically refers to gift items that you bring home from a trip for your family, your boss, your co-workers, or anyone else you can think of. Positive relationships in Japan revolve around the presentation of omiyage.

img_2594The most popular form of omiyage is food — cookies, sweets, tea, and so on. But sometimes omiyage are simply thoughtful gifts that reflect the fact that someone went on a trip and brought something back for you. For example, a Japanese friend brought me this gift of a pair of hyoten gourds with rabbits and gilt decoration from a high end department store in Hokkaido; they signifiy that when she was in Hokkaido she thought about me and my hashioki collection.

This set shows five famous places that a tourist would visit — or long to visit — in Kyoto. From left to right on the top row is Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji aka The Temple img_2616of the Golden Pavillion, and the rock garden at Ryooan-ji. On the bottom row the pagoda at Toji temple is on the left, and the Phoenix Hall at the Byodon-in in Uji is on the right. This set may be the next best thing to being there.



This uchiwa fan commemorates Daimonji, an annual festival in August in Kyoto where a giant kanji character meaning “large” or “great” is created with bonfires on a mountain overlooking the city. Most Japanese would look at this hashioki and immediately think of Kyoto.


img_2595This fan-shaped hashioki may be the ultimate omiyage because it shows a picture of Ginkakuji, Kyoto’s famous Silver Pavillion, where it was actually purchased. Unfortunately, it doesn’t convey any of the aesthetics that the Silver Pavillion is known for.


Not too much thinking is required to connect this hashioki with a fish with its source. While the design is neither unique or distinctive, the flip side of the piece identifies its place of origin.  I don’t remember seeing this fish on exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, so it’s not as good as the souvenir hashioki from the Atami Museum, which feature motifs from National Treasures in their collection (please see my post “Smart Merchandising” from January 2016).

Some omiyage are meibutsu, meaning products that are famous for originating in a particular region. Meibutsu is written with two kanji characters meaning “famous” and “thing.”

For example, the Hakone-Odawara area near Mt. Fuji is famous for the yosegi-zaiku wood mosaic or marquetry done in that area. This rabbit with the perky ears demonstrates wood of different colors from different kinds of trees are glued together, while the block pieces with the indentations in the middle show how different woods are also glues into oblong rods, and then cut to make hashioki, boxes, coasters, and other products. Shops in the Hakone area are filled with examples of this famous local craft.

This ceramic bird is glazed in a style of ceramic decoration that is associated with the city of Kanazawa.



This set of four luminous glass hashioki are, or at one time were, the signature pieces of the Morimoto Restaurant in Philadelphia, which is named for its master chef/owner. Actually, I’m not sure if these are meibutsu, omiyage,  or a consolation prize; they were presented to us after a waiter spilled a glass a beer on my husband during dinner.

Hashioki are a great meibutsu or omiyage because they’re inexpensive, don’t spoil, and small enough to bring enough home for everyone. That’s especially true when they’re wrapped up like this hashioki.