Little acorns

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.

Little acorns4

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.



Maple leaves

Maple leaves5I 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 JapaneseMaple leaves6 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.

Maple leaves

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.

Cast iron teapot

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 becauseCast iron teapot 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.



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 theBoats2 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.

Boats3The 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 Boats4rivers 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.

Roof demon

Roof demonsThis 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.

Roof demons2In 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 demons3roof, 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.


During the late 16th century the sixth son of a minor Japanese prince was adopted as an heir by that country’s ruling warlord. When the warlord’s wife gave birth to a natural son the warlord reversed the adoption, but he also presented his ousted adoptee with a generous cash settlement.

This young man had grown up reading The Tale of Genji, and he was enchanted by the world of the so-called Shining Prince. So it’s hardly surprising he decided to use his windfall to purchase property in Katsura, a neighborhood in Kyoto where many scenes from The Tale of Genji take place, to build a home like the ones described in the novel. The house and garden complex he and his heirs created is known as Katsura Rikyu, or the Katsura Detached Palace.

Katsura is a masterpiece of traditional Japanese design. The three main buildings and four surrounding tea houses are rustic and yet austerely elegant, featuring clean lines and stark rectangular spaces enlivened by natural wood surfaces and tatami mats. Even more renown than the buildings are the Katsura gardens, which feature a large man-made pond and many uneven stone stepping paths, including one where visitors must step from stone to stone to cross a section of the pond.

KatsuraDecoration at Katsura is minimal, and the decoration that is there often has an irregular or natural shape to play against the rectangular lines of the buildings. This hashioki is in the shape of a hikite, or hand pull for a fusuma or sliding door. It is probably the most famous decorative shape associated with Katsura. It is meant to suggest the shape of a rising moon (tsuki) or the kanji character that represents a moon. When The Tale of Genji was written many aristocrats owned villa’s in the area where the palace was built so they could view the reflection of the moon in the Katsura River that borders the neighborhood.

At some point a special set of five hashioki was created as homage to Katsura Rikyu. I happened to see one of these sets for sale on eBay several years ago, but someone else snapped it up while I was hesitating over the price. When I saw another set for sale on Etsy last year I didn’t hesitate to buy it.



The shapes in this Katsura set are (left to right): moon, matsuba pine needles, marsh grass, and an oar (used for boats in Katsura’s pond). The fifth piece on the bottom is an ichimegasa, or traditional hat with a wide brim and high crown that Japanese women have worn to market since Heian times


All six of these hashioki are glazed ceramics. The original hikite were enameled metal. During my last visit to Katsura in October 2016 I spotted on the original oar-shaped hikite in a fusama in one of the buildings.


Visiting Katsura isn’t easy. You have to apply to Japan’s Imperial Household Agency far in advance in order to secure one of the very limited visitor slots. I’ve been twice, and I can’t wait to have another opportunity to visit again. It’s well worth it.







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…..




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:

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.


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.