Posted on | July 7, 2010 | 1 Comment
Posted on | June 17, 2010 | 1 Comment
There is an old Chinese–Taoist tale of a hare that resides in the moon and pounds magic herbs to make the elixir of eternal life. The hare was considered sacred and was believed to live a thousand years, becoming white only when it had reached the end of its first five hundred years. This belief was assimilated by the Japanese who see the hare in the moon pounding mochi (rice cakes) instead of magic herbs.
Because the moon is deemed to shine its brightest in autumn, the full moon and hare motif has also become associated with autumn in Japanese art. Aki no nana kusa, the seven grasses of autumn, often appear with the rabbit in the moon and have provided a motif for Japanese art since the Nara Era (710-794). The seven grasses are kikyo (purple Chinese bell flowers), hagi (Japanese bush clover), susuki (Japanese pampas grass), kuzu (millet), nadeskiko (fringed pink flowers), fujibakama (boneset), and ominaeshi, which resembles Queen Anne’s lace.
Another hare motif that is commonly seen in Japanese art is the hare and ocean wave motif. This unusual combination originated from a story in the Kojiki (Japan’s oldest history book) called “Inaba no Shirousagi,” or the “White Rabbit of Inaba” (present day Shimane prefecture). According to the legend, a white rabbit crossed the ocean from Okino Island to the mainland at Inaba by using the backs of sharks as stepping stones and thus appeared to be running over the tops of the waves. This story became the theme of a Noh song that translates roughly, “While the moon floats over the ocean, a rabbit runs over the waves; what interesting island scenery.”
Rabbits, Moon, and Waves
Rabbits, Autumn Moon, and Fall Flowers
Rabbits, Moon, and Autumn Grasses
Posted on | June 4, 2010 | 1 Comment
The iris has captivated the hearts of the Japanese since ancient times. Kakitsubata, a native species of iris, became especially popular from a story in the tenth century, “Tales of Ise.” An aristocratic poet, weary of the fashionable life in Kyoto, set out on a long journey. Arriving at Yatsuhashi (meaning “eight bridges”), he saw irises in full bloom in a marsh crisscrossed with the eight bridges that gave the area its name. The sight filled him with such longing for his wife in far away Kyoto that he wrote a verse for her, beginning each line with a syllable from the flower’s name, ka-ki-tsu-ba-ta. Ever since, kakitsubata and zigzag wooden bridges have been linked as a motif in art, literature, and gardening.
The iris is also known as hanashoubu, hana meaning “flower” and shoubu, a play on words that can mean “martial spirit” or “victory or defeat” as in a match or a showdown. Designs of hanashoubu and dragonflies were often stamped into tanned deerskin and worn into battle to protect a warrior.
It was once believed that the iris gave protection from the evil spirits that were abroad on the fifth day of the fifth month. Traditionally, young boys would bathe with the iris’s sword-like leaves on this day. The iris also symbolizes the warrior spirit and is displayed, along with koinobori (flying koi banners), on May 5th, Children’s Day (once known as Boys’ Day or Tango no Sekku).
Serene scenes such as these bring good feng shui to one’s home and may be found in my
Posted on | June 1, 2010 | 3 Comments
Nothing is more soothing and meditative than to watch koi swimming lazily in a pond, and yet the symbolism for koi is anything but peaceful. There is a well-known legend dating back to ancient China about one koi that traveled the long distance upstream against the strong Yellow River current and successfully made it over the infamous Dragon Gate Falls, a seemingly overwhelming barrier. It was such an impossible task that the koi was rewarded by being transformed into a dragon. This legend was later introduced to Japan where it became part of Japanese lore, and the koi became a symbol of worldly aspiration and achievement, tenacity of purpose, and indomitable courage to the Japanese. Families display koinobori (flying carp banners) outside their houses each year on May 5th on Children’s Day (once known as Boys’ Day or Tango no Sekku) as a visible prayer for their children to grow up strong and healthy and to be able to withstand all the fierce currents of adversity. The koi symbolism is also appropriate for wishing students to do well in their examinations and for wishing anyone continued success in life.
An example of this legend is seen in this design on a fabric panel wall hanging. It shows the koi approaching a waterfall with a small dragon at the top right. The kanji on the upper right reads “Gateway to Success,” which makes this wall hanging a great gift to inspire a student or someone starting out in business.