Frolicking animals

The frog, monkey and rabbits shown here — including the rabbits originally posted in my September 2016 post “Rabbits” — are as familiar to most Japanese as Sonic the Hedgehog or Mickey Mouse.


These animals are featured players in the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga or Chōjū-giga, generally translated as the Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, which date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The four black ink on paper scrolls, composed entirely of illustrations with no text, are sometimes referred to as Japan’s earliest manga.

IMG_3592As these hashioki demonstrate, the Chōjū-giga drawings are often charming and humorous. They show animals doing human activities, like dancing or playing music or competing in an archery contest. Scholars have traditionally suggested that the scrolls were created to lampoon errant Buddhist priests and pampered aristocrats of their time.

It’s entirely possible that the Chōjū-giga scrolls exist today only because they are an official National Treasure of Japan. In the late 19th. century Japan enacted legislation which designated buildings and items with historic orIMG_3668 cultural significance as kokuhō, or National Treasures. This legislation prohibits the export of these treasures, regulates their transfer or alteration inside Japan, provides tax incentives for restoration and even offers professional help for preservation and display. There are currently over 200 buildings and structures classified as National Treasures, and approximately 870 fine arts and crafts, including the Chōjū-giga scrolls.

IMG_3666I was fortunate enough to see the Chōjū-giga scrolls when they were on display at a museum in Kyushu in November 2016. Even before the museum opened there was along line of people waiting patiently in line to see the scrolls, and the line was even longer when I left. One of the gratifying (if slightly annoying) things about visiting museums in Japan is the large numbers of Japanese people who are interested in viewing their nation’s treasures and artwork.

No hashioki have been designated as National Treasures…. yet. But at least hashioki like these examples help familiarize users with Japan’s cultural heritage.


Hoosier hashioki

I think of this hashioki as my “Hoosier hashioki” because it depicts a red cardinal bird sitting on a log.

IMG_3537Cardinals are the state bird for the state of Indiana, along with 6 other states in the United States. They are my neighbors in the woods behind my house. So even though I spotted this metal hashioki in a department store on the Ginza in Tokyo, I knew it was a Hoosier hashioki right away.

In the Japanese language cardinal is shoujoukoukanchou. But they don’t seem to have red cardinals in Japan. There is a red-crested cardinal in Japan, but it’s a white and grey bird with a red head, and it’s apparently an import from South America.

So I guess my Hoosier hashioki is officially an invasive species in Japan.



Disney Daruma

I don’t have any Halloween hashioki. I’m sure they exist, but I prefer to concentrate on pieces that symbolize Japanese tradition, not Westernization.

Disney DarumaSo this is as close as I get to costume hashioki: Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse masquerading as Daruma.

Daruma of course is the nickname for the founder of Zen Buddhism, the monk Bodhidharma. He cut off his eyelids to keep himself from dozing while he meditated, and then meditated so long that his arms and legs fell off. These pieces suggest that he also grew oversized ears, but I’m pretty sure that is not part of the original story. And of course one of these Daruma is female. For more discussion on “Daruma” please see my post from August 2016.

I don’t know if anyone could achieve enlightenment at a Disney theme park. But if you were at the Tokyo Disney Resort in 2011 you could have added these hashioki to your collection.


Happy Halloween.


Susuki Moon

The Japanese have a special relationship with the moon, especially with the moon in autumn.

Susuki moonThe Susuki Moon is specifically an autumn moon. “Susuki” is kind of Japanese pampas grass that is recognized as a symbol of autumn in Japan. You can see the stems are that inscribed on the surface of this piece to simulate looking through tall grass. This hashioki shows a waning Susuki Moon, meaning that the amount of the moon’s surface that is illuminated is decreasing as the moon pass from half moon to a gibbous moon, and then on to a full new moon.

Many thanks to Murata, a wonderful Japanese lifestyle store in Vancouver that made this piece available on their website, and to Kazue at Murata, who explained its’ significance to me.



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.

Just because

I usually buy things because I need them.

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.


OwlsThese 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.

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.



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