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.

Clock

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.

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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.

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

 

 

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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.

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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.

Double duty

img_2624Sometimes hashioki do more than simply provide a place to rest the tips of your chopstick.

One common extra job they perform is to provide a toothpick for the diner, as this boatman on his raft demonstrates, along with this catfish, collapsed ceramic pot, and plastic imitation lacquer holder. A red version of the last hashioki is featured in the section “Ninja hashioki” in January 2016.
Containers of toothpicks are frequently provided on restaurant tables in Asia, presumably because fibers from the small pieces of meat and vegetables have a tendency to get caught between your teeth.


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A hashioki like this bamboo one from Bento & Co. in Kyoto includes a cubbyhole to hold the tips of chopsticks when you set the table or want to signify that you’ve finished your meal in addition to providing a place on top to rest chopsticks while you’re eating.

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Chopstick rests that also provide a place to rest your soup spoon are common in mainland Asia, as this silver dragon from China and ceramic flourish from Korea suggest.  In both hashioki the soup spoon rests on the indentation on the left, while the chopsticks rest on the right side.

Double dutyThis spoon and chopsticks hashioki is a recent acquisition.  It’s also the first chopstick rest I’ve seen that shows the four suits of playing cards (hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs).  There will probably be a lot more like it if Las Vegas-style gambling casinos come to Japan, as is being discussed in the Japanese press now.img_2625Finally, this example seems to offer not two, but three options:  a place to hold chopsticks upright before or after a meal, a place near the toe of the shoe to rest chopsticks during the meal, and a cavity large enough to hold soy sauce or another condiment for dipping.

Why not?

My husband and I had lunch recently at our local Noodles & Company, a fast food chain that specializes in Italian and Asian noodle-based dishes. He had the Japanese Pan Noodles with marinated steak, and I had the Thai Curry Soup with tofu.

Beverages and condiments are self-serve at Noodles & Company, and while we were filling our drink cups and picking up napkins, chopsticks and hot sauce before heading to our table I noticed a container of brightly colored plastic objects wrapped in cellophane. Iimg_2626 couldn’t resist picking one up. Okay, maybe I picked up more than one; I’m a collector at heart, apparently. Anyway, when I looked more carefully at the package at our table I discovered it was a “Chopstick Buddy,” two plastic collars that are linked together so you can slip them over a pair of chopsticks so they stay together, and theoretically help you learn how to eat with chopsticks.

I’m impressed that Noodles & Company have stepped up to the task of teaching their customers how to use chopsticks. But I couldn’t help thinking: why doesn’t somebody do this with chopstick rests? It would be easy for a restaurant to hand out small plastic hashioki wrapped in cellophane bags; maybe they could even print advertising on them, or inscribe them with fortunes, like fortune cookies in Chinese restaurants. I think chopstick rests would be a very appreciated item, particularly at fast food restaurants where the tables aren’t always cleaned between patrons, and you might not want the tips of your chopsticks to touch anything other than your food and your mouth.

Why not? Seems to me that hashioki wrapped in plastic would be an even better Chopstick Buddy.

Perseverance

IMG_2398The vendor who sold me this hashioki said that the bird was a seagull.

But it didn’t look like a seagull to me; the bird was too small and too plump. So I started looking for a different explanation.

This hashioki looked a lot like a Mt. Fuji chopstick rest that I had previously purchased online from Bento & Co., a wonderful store in Kyoto. When I checked their site I found that the hashioki were indeed related, and that they were made by a company called Kihara. When I visited the Kihara site I discovered the name of this pattern is nami (wave) chidori (plover).

The chidori, or plover, is a sparrow-sized bird that likes to wade in the surf or shallow river waters. They are migratory birds which spend the summer in Siberia, and the winter in Japan. They travel in flocks, which probably explains their Japanese name; the kanji for chi means one thousand, and the kanji pronounced dori means birds. Because chidori migrate great distances, flying over rough seas in heavy winds while they travel, they are considered a symbol of perseverance. For Japanese warriors they were an emblem of someone who would fight to overcome obstacles (1).

I think nami chidori would be a good emblem for hashioki collectors, too; identifying and researching require a fair amount of perseverance, too.

Nami chidori, the combination of plovers flying over waves, is a popular design motif in Japan. It is especially favored in summer because the image of a winter bird is thought to bring the suggestion of coolness to a hot day.

(1) Baird, Merrily.  Symbols of Japan:  Thematic Motifs in Art and Design.  New York:  Rizzoli International Publications, 2001, p. 103.

 

Rokkasen

The inspiration for this set of six hashioki is more high brow than most. They depict the “six poetry immortals” who were named as being notable in the mid-9th. century in Japan.

Ono no Komachi (top row, left) is probably the most famous of the group. She is almost as famous for her legendary beauty as she is for her melancholy poems. Komachi apparently had a string of lovers during her lifetime, and many of her poems are about being separated or enduring the pain after an affair has ended. One of Komachi’s lovers was reportedly the poet Ariwara no Narihira (top row, right). The other poets in the group include Fun’ya no Yasuhide (top row, middle),

Sōjō Henjō (bottom row, left), Ōtomo Kuronushi (bottom row, middle), and Kisen Hōshi (bottom row, right).

This set seems very unusual to me; in fact, it’s hard to hypothesize why this set was Rokkasencreated and marketed. While these poets may be immortal, with the possible exceptions of Komachi and Narihira they’re not famous among the general Japanese population. People would be more likely to recognize them from a poem than from a portrait; the vendor in Japan who sold me this set had to contact the manufacturer to match each figure with the right name. It seems to me that this set would only be valued by someone who was an academic or extremely knowledgeable about Heian period poetry, or by a fanatical hashioki collector.

Which obviously explains why I bought it.