Materials

MaterialsThe vast majority of hashioki are made from some sort of ceramic material, like these examples of fine china or porcelain, or this striated clay handmade example by a contemporary artisan.

Many scholars believe that Japan has the world’s oldest ceramic tradition; carbon dating of archeological Materialsdiscoveries suggest that the production of ceramics in Japan may have began as early as 10,000 BCE (1). So it seems appropriate that most hashioki are made from ceramics.

But hashioki have been fashioned from many other materials, including materials that are traditional and materials that are more modern.

 

The examples above on the left are fashioned from a wood core which is thin covered with repeated coats of a film-thin lacquer made from the sap of the urushi tree. The one on the right is a plastic imitation of this technique.

Trees are traditionally objects of reverence in Japan, so various kinds of wood, including (left to right, top to bottom) maple, rosewood, cherry tree wood and bark, teak, coconut tree wood, and bamboo are popular materials for hashioki.

 

Sometimes hashioki made from washi, the Japanese paper made from the bark of aMaterials variety of trees and shrubs. The resulting product is stronger than paper made from wood pulp, and often more textured than standard paper. Despite its strength, paper hashioki like these made from patterned chiyogami (“1000 generation paper”) is usually coated with a clear protective coating.

 

Hashioki are sometimes made from machine-printed paper, like this example of pre-printed origami hashioki that look like animals. In fact, the most common hashioki are made from printed paper — specifically, from the printer wrappers that protect disposable chopsticks.

Some of the other materials represented in my collection include: (first row) silver and gold metal, hammered tin, stainless steel, (second row) glass, nephrite or jade, granite, (third row) marble, polished quartz, slate, (fourth row) animal horn, bone, mother of pearl, (fifth row) hard plastic, soft silicone plastic, and concrete.

 

 

 

The last examples prove that hashioki continue to evolve, incorporating modern materials while still making a nod to tradition.

Finally, these natural stone pebbles demonstrate that nature can be a skilled hashiokiMaterials creator. The one on the right comes from from Nobu, the restaurant of master chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In addition to using these pebbles at their place settings, Nobu features them in a beautiful rock wall on one side of the restaurant. The pebble hashioki with the interesting color variations on the right is from MaterialsIppudo, a famous Japanese ramen restaurant which happens to have a branch in midtown Manhattan.

 

 

 

Of course this catalog of materials is far from exhaustive; imagination and creativity are the only limits to the kinds of materials that can be used to create hashioki.
Dalby, Liza, et al. All-Japan: The Catalogue of Everything Japanese. New York: Quill, 1984, p, 20.

 

 

Shapes

Hashioki are made in an endless variety of shapes, as should be readily apparent to anyone who has scrolled through the posts on this blog.

The most basic hashioki shape is a simple rectangle or ingot with a flat bottom.

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Many rectangular hashioki have curved tops to keep chopsticks from sliding off, and some have ends with a pronounced curl.

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As previously noted, some hashioki are reminiscent of bridges, reflecting the fact that hashi is a homonym for both chopsticks and bridge in Japanese, and stand on little feet like pilings. (See “A hashi for your hashi” post from January 2016.)

 

Apparently hashioki shaped like makura, or Japanese pillow, where once popular. Makura are hard and rigid, usually made from ceramics or wood, and support the neck instead of IMG_1397the head of the user. “For years, the most commonly used form [for hashioki] was that of the pillow,” writes H. Elliott McClure. “Gradually it came in different colors and patterns, but still retaining the pillow form.”(1)  Some ceramic pillows had holes in the sides which could be filled with hot water in winter, as the painted dots on either side of this example suggest.

Some hashioki indicate the place where the tips of the chopsticks should rest,

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while some, like this tiny ceramic plate with an attached rabbit, provide a large target area.

 

 

Other hashioki envelope chopsticks to keep them from rolling around the table.

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Some hashioki do double duty by functioning as a toothpick holder as well as a place for the tips of your chopsticks, like this plastic shamisen, while others provide a place to rest a soup spoons.
But this is just a brief overview. The shape of a hashioki is limited only by the creative mind of its maker and the preference of its user. That is what this blog is all about.

(1) McClure, H. Elliott.  “Hashioki:  The Art of the Chopstick Rest.”  Orientations.  June 1979, p. 46.

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Hashioki origin & timeline

The origin of hashioki is difficult to date.

Historians believe that chopsticks originated in China, and that they were first imported to neighboring countries sometime after the fifth century BCE. In Japan chopsticks were probably initially used solely by the imperial court and nobility, the people who interacted with Chinese and Korean emissaries; many chopsticks have been discovered in theIMG_1362 excavations of the first permanent capital that was constructed near Nara, Japan beginning in 710 CE. Prior to the introduction of chopsticks the Japanese people, like many of their global contemporaries, ate with their hands, or sipped liquids like soup from bowls. However, archeological excavations outside of Kyoto suggest that chopsticks were in common use by the general population by the end of the eighth century.(1) This pebble shaped hashioki has been glazed and fired in the style of many ceramics from that period.

Unfortunately, the origin of hashioki is less certain. Some commentators suggest there is a connection to rituals performed in Shintoism, the indigenous spiritual system of Japan IMG_1363associated with nature, where the chopsticks used to offer ritual foods to the gods were placed on a stand to keep them uncontaminated.(2) This cherry tree bark hasioki could be considered to express the Shinto emphasis on natural materials. An illustration in the Shijōke shichigosan no kazarikata (Shijō-House Decorations for 7-5-3 Trays), a Japanese culinary text dated 1612, features what appears to be a hashioki in diagrams for two banquet trays, although in this drawing the center of the chopsticks are balanced on the hashioki like a seesaw,(3) not simply supporting the tips, as they are used today. Because this text is essentially an interpretation of Chinese practices for ceremonial occasions, it supports the idea that hashioki, like chopsticks, are items that may have originated in China.

British scholar Charles J. Dunn claims that hashioki were used by more affluent JapaneseIMG_1364 households during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868).(4) This ivory-colored porcelain rest its asymmetrical floral design and gold embellishment is typical of the Satsuma ceramics popular during that period.

H. Elliott McClure, an American ornithologist and hashioki collector who lived in Japan during the 1950s, and the author of the only article on hashioki published in an English-language scholarly journal to date, believed that hashioki are a “modern innovation… probably not used before the turn of the [twentieth] century.”(5)

Even if chopstick rests existed in Japan prior to 1900, they became much more popular after this time in response to several trends. First, this period coincided with the establishment of depāto, or department stores in Japan. These department stores fueled the growth of a consumer culture in Japan,(6) specifically among the merchant and artisan classes, which now constituted a middle class with money to spend. Anthropologist Millie Creighton points out that while the department stores sell Western goods in Japan, they also sell domestic products, and as such are “involved in the creation IMG_1365of cultural meanings… they are also curators of Japanese tradition, re-defining the meanings associated with a Japanese heritage.”(7)  For example, this blue and white speckled hyotan or gourd, purchased in a Mitsukoshi department store, is a traditional good luck symbol, and also reflects the Japanese affinity for forms from nature. Today the housewares departments of Japanese depāto continue to offer some of the largest and most varied assortments of hashioki, including many hashioki featuring traditional motifs.
Second, the beginning of the twentieth century saw a dramatic change in the dining habits of the Japanese. Historian Jordan Sand notes that prior to the early 1900s “members of Japanese families generally dined at different times, sometimes in different rooms, from individual trays.”(8) This meant most people ate in silence. Sand refers to a Japanese household management guide and moral instruction guide published in 1907 titled Ie (Household) which introduced the idea that ‘houses of the middle level of society (chūtō shakai) should make a custom whenever possible of gathering the whole family for meals.’ Meals should be taken in the most pleasant place in the house, conversation should be encouraged, and ‘to the degree possible, trays should be abandoned for a table structure…’”(9)  Ethnographer Naomichi Ishige reports that by the mid 1920s most Japanese familiesIMG_1366 had transitioned to low communal tables called chabudai, which were largely replaced by a Western-style dining table by the 1970s.(10) Hashioki like this hand-painted crescent, which allowed a diner to pause and lay down his or her chopsticks during a meal, are one device that could facilitate conversation at a communal table.

Third, while Japan was bombarded with Western influences after the opening of the country to trade with the West in 1854, this actually encouraged some citizens to become nostalgic for traditional items. Design historian Penny Sparke confirms this trend when she notes that in the hundred years beginning in the 1870s “as [Japan] gradually embraced a way of life inspired by the West, design developed erratically, sometimes moving enthusiastically forward, fired by IMG_1367advances in technology, and sometimes resisting advancement, mirroring and reinvigorating the continuing role of tradition and spirituality in everyday life.”(11)  Hashioki, like this one in the shape of a folded fan, brought traditional symbols to the dining table, and also facilitated the use of traditional chopsticks instead of Western cutlery.
Finally, domestic travel by Japanese citizens, including recreational tourism to famous sites throughout Japan, expanded significantly during the twentieth century. After World War 2 the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan also increased. So the new marketIMG_1368 created by tourists shopping for souvenirs, like this stylized cherry blossom, may have fueled hashioki growth.  Anyone who has been to Japan will attest to the lines of shops along the approaches to temples and shrines, and the kiosks that line the hallways of railroad stations, that exist solely to provide keepsakes for travelers, or for the folks back home. There are always a few shops selling plates and cups and chopstick rests; hashioki make attractive souvenirs that are both inexpensive and easy to carry.

My takeaway from this timeline is that during a century of dynamic economic growth and societal metamorphosis hashioki have been hashi, or bridges, spanning a river of change.

(1) Ishige, Naomichi.  The History and Culture of Japanese Food.  London:  Keegan Paul, 2001, p. 67.

(2) Kikkoman Corporation.  Chopsticks (O-hashi).  http://kikkoman.com/cookbook/glossarygs4.shtml (downloaded March 2011), p. 1.

(3) Rath, Eric C.  Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010, Plate 5.

(4) Dunn, Charles J.  Everyday Life in Traditional Japan.  North Clarendon, Vermont:  Tuttle Publishing, 1969, p. 136.

(5) McClure, H. Elliott.  Hashioki: Art of the Chopstick Rest.  Orientations, June 1979, p. 45.

(6) Tamari, Tomoko.  “Rise of the Department Store and the Aestheticization of Everyday Life in 20th. Century Japan.”  International Journal of Japanese Sociology.  2006 (November: Number 15), p.100.

(7) Creighton, Millie. “Pre-industrial dreaming in post-industrial Japan:  department stores and the commoditization of community traditions.” Japan Forum 1998, 10 (2), p. 127.

(8) Sand, Jordan. House and Home in Modern Japan:  Architecture, Domestic Space and Bourgeois Culture 1880-1930.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 33.

(9) Ibid., p. 34.

(10) Ishige, Naomichi.  “Food Culture,” in Sugimoto, Yoshio (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 310.

(11) Sparke, Penny.  Japanese Design.  New York:  Museum of Modern Art, 2009, p. 13.

 

 

Making more out of less

Even the diminutive size of hashioki seem to link them to Japan.

For example, this hashioki is nothing more than a small lump of clay that has been shapedIMG_1486  by hand, had some features carved with a simple pointed tool, and then splashed with two colors of glaze before being fired. Yet it is instantly recognizable as a tanuki, or native Japanese raccoon dog, and appreciated as a delightful folk art rendering of a tanuki at that. Donald Richie, who wrote extensively about Japanese culture and film, once suggested that Japan’s historical historical experience of having to make more out of less space and fewer natural resources has made it the master of tiny items. “Traditionally, Japan learned to transform its poverty…. The art of the small, the minimal, the enormous economy of the spatial assumptions, this was due to not having much,”(1)  Richie noted.

Hashioki makers know how to get a lot of bang out of their buck.

During the pre-modern Tokugawa period the Japanese government also levied consumption taxes as a means to restrict displays of wealth among the then newly-IMG_1372emerging middle class. These measures “forced craftsmen to lavish their skills on small private objects, like tiny ivory clasps or exquisite lacquer boxes… [thereby producing a Japanese] tradition of great craftsmanship in detail and miniature.”(2)  This tradition, and the Japanese population’s appreciation for detailed small objects like this lovely hand painted fan with gold embellishment, undoubtedly apaved the way for the promulgation of hashioki in the twentieth century, and for their endurance today.

(1) Richie, Donald.  “Patterns of Japanese Leisure,” October 1994 address at Harvard University.  Partial Views:  Essays on Contemporary Japan.  Tokyo: The Japan Times, Ltd., 1995, p.30.

(2) Darmon, Reed.  Made in Japan.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books, 2006, p. 7.

For more information on tanuki see my January 2016 post “Bad boys.”

 

A hashi for your hashi

The word hashi, which is the first part of the compound word hashioki, is (as I explained in my post What’s in a name? ) the pronunciation for the Japanese kanji or ideograph for “chopsticks.”  This kanji is shown below on the left.

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Hashi is also one pronunciation for a different Japanese kanji which means “bridge”.  The kanji for bridge is shown to the right of the kanji for chopsticks.

Since the two kanji are homonyms, you could think of a hashioki as a hashi (bridge) for your hashi (chopsticks).  The coincidence has inspired hashioki in the shape of bridges, as well as hashioki that rest on little feet in the form of bridges.

Merrily Baird writes that thanks to the preponderance of rivers, streams, and canals, bridges are everywhere in Japan. She notes that bridges have always been a popular theme in Japanese art, particularly when they IMG_1360allude to Japanese legends or literature classics.(1) This blue and white example, where the image of a bridge is displayed beside some cursive or Japanese grass style writing, alludes to that connection.

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The homophonic hashi connection also reinforces the idea that in the same way that hashioki function as bridges between food and mouth or table and mouth, they also serve function as symbolic bridges between the people who use them and Japanese culture.

 

This hashi is a reproduction of the famous meganebashi bridge in Nagasaki.  When the arches of the bridge are reflected in the Nakashima River it spans, it is said to img_2766 megane or eyeglasses with round lenses.  This piece must be authentic;  I purchased it at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture gift shop.  I wish there were more hashioki that were genuine souvenirs, functioning as bridges between famous sites and dining room tables.

(1) Baird, Merrily.  Symbols of Japan:  Thematic Motifs in Art and Design.  New York:  Rizzoli International Publications, 2001, pp. 224-245.

What’s in a name?

 

In the Japanese language hashioki is commonly written using kanji as shown in the photo on the left below.

The first kanji or Chinese character is the symbol for chopsticks (hashi), the second kanji is the base of the Japanese verb meaning “to place or put” (o from oku), and the third element (ki) expresses the verb inflection in hiragana, the Japanese syllabary for native words.  Therefore in Japanese a hashioki is an object “to place chopsticks on.”  The noun is both singular and plural.

When written entirely in hiragana hashioki looks like the photo above on the right.

IMG_2345The Chinese linguistical roots for chopstick rests are somewhat different.  In Chinese chopstick rests are known as kuaizi zuo, which is written in the photo on the left.  In this case the first character represents the Chinese word for chopsticks (kuai), the second character is the Chinese term for little (zi), and the third character is the Chinese symbol for seat (zuo).  therefore a kuaizi zuo is a “little seat for chopsticks.”

In English hashioki are sometimes referred to as chopstick holders, although this term more properly describes a container that holds a number of chopsticks upright on a table or counter, or a carrying case for chopsticks.

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Sometimes the term chopstick pillow, which is the way this bird-shaped piece was described by the vendor in Kobe who sold it on Etsy.com.

Hashioki are also occasionally called chopstick hanger, which was what the packing for this IMG_1488mother-of-pearl example from the gift shop of the Taiwan National Museum in Taipei described it as.

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While chopstick rests were obviously created to use with chopsticks, in the West there is a similar item that is used as a resting place for knives or dessert forks.  Western producers like the venerable English china firm Wedgewood have marketed items like this streamlined white example as a chopstick/knife rest.  I suppose we could consider that dual name to be a comment on the global impact of Asian culture.

 

 

What are hashioki?

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Hashioki are small objects made from ceramics, wood, metal, or other materials that are used as tableware in Japan and other parts of Asia.  Generally measuring less than two inches in length, they appear in a wide variety of shapes and forms.  Often called chopstick rests in English, diners use them to rest the tips of their chopsticks upon when they’re not using them during a meal.

Hashioki are popular throughout Asia, and increasingly seen in the United States and Europe today.  But while they may have originated elsewhere in Asia, I believe chopstick rests are predominantly a Japanese phenomenon.  Their considerable presence throughout Japan in restaurants, gift shops, department store, and other venues supports this view, as does the Japanese cultural themes and indigenous flora and fauna they habitually depict.  Many hashioki also resonate with the same aesthetic and design principles that are expressed in the fine arts of Japan.  Therefore, chopstick rests will be called hashioki, their Japanese name, throughout this blog.

IMG_1323Hashioki perform several functions.  They are a sanitation device because they prevent the tips of chopsticks — the part that touches a person’s mouth — from touching a tabletop and collecting germs.  From a practical standpoint they protect a tabletop or tablecloth from becoming soiled with food particles or residues during a meal.

But for hashioki collectors they are much more.  More than 100 years ago the eminent Japanologist Basil Hall Chamberlain wrote, “In the Japanese view of life the tritest articles of daily use should, if possible, rejoice the eye and feed the mind.” (1)

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Whether they are mass-produced or handmade, hashioki are often miniature works of art, and objects that have the power to evoke emotional responses.  They are routinely made in the shape of cultural icons, decorated in a manner that suggests traditional Japanese values and practices, or made from materials infused with allusions.  They often suggest a season or a holiday, and frequently communicate something about the people using them.

IMG_1318The role of hashioki as symbols is part of what makes chopstick rests Japanese.  Contemporary scholar Merrily Baird has observed that, “It is the nature of man to both think and express himself symbolically.  Moreover, the power of symbols is magnified when a society has broadly shaped experience, a deep knowledge of its cultural traditions and common sentiments about those experiences and traditions.  The fact that these conditions exist in Japan to a striking degree has ensured that the country continues to enjoy a cultural life meaningfully enriched by the use of symbols.”(2)

The simple truth that hashioki resonate with the essence of Japan has drawn me to them for over twenty years.

(1) Chamberlain, Basil Hall.  Things Japanese:  Being Notes on Various Subjects Connected with Japan.  Berkeley:  Stone Bridge Press, 2007 (reprint of 1905 edition), p. 57.

(2) Baird, Merrily.  Symbols of Japan:  Thematic Motifs in Art and Design.  New York:  Rizzoli International Publications, 2001, p. 9.

Every collection begins with just one item

 

I started collecting hashioki is the fall of 1993 when our family was living in Hong Kong.

One day my husband and I made one of our regular visit to the Hong Kong Museum of Art.  Before leaving the museum we stopped in the gift shop to do some browsing, and I happened to spot a tiny pale green fish, lying on its side on top of a pedestal, with its head and tailing curving up in the air.

IMG_2324“What is that?” my husband asked as we walked over to the diminutive sculpture displayed on a glass shelf.

“I think it’s a chopstick rest,” I said, pointing to the pair of chopsticks propped on top of its mate on the shelf.  “We saw them in some restaurants when we were in Japan.”

The fish was a little over an inch and a half long, and only one inch high, and weighed well under an ounce.  It appeared to be carved out of nephrite, the translucent stone that is sometimes mistakenly referred to as jade.  The carving was a little uneven, but the craftsman had given the fish an open mouth and one big round eye, and cut crosshatch marks into the top of the body to simulate scales.

“How much is it?” my husband asked.

I checked the sticker on its bottom.  “Not much,” I said.  “Twenty-one Hong Kong dollars.”  That was the equivalent of three U.S. dollars.

“Let me buy it for you,” he said, taking the fish from my hand and heading for the cash wrap counter.  Then he grinned.  “Maybe you can start a collection.” Since arriving in Hong Kong to spend a year while my husband taught at a HK university I had pondered what kind of special souvenirs we might bring back to our home in the United States.  Other expatriate wives I had met said they planned to return with strings of pearls or Chinese antiques, but I knew our one-salary, three-school-aged-children budget wouldn’t allow me to purchase items like that.

Chopstick rests, or hashioki in Japanese, seemed like the perfect answer. They were small and inexpensive, and would be easy to pack for our return home.  My husband and I had a particular connection to Japan because we had met in a Japanese history class 20 years earlier.  We often used chopsticks when we ate Asian foods at home.  I remembered seeing hashioki for sale in other Hong Kong stores, particularly the Japanese department stores, so I suspected they would be relatively easy to collect.

“Just this?” the sales clerk asked when my husband placed the little fish on the counter.

“Just one chopstick rest,” I confirmed.  For now.