Among Sendai Hariko (papier-mache), a kind of toy made from molded and colored paper, probably the most common item is the Matsukawa Daruma doll. This daruma is colored ultramarine around its face, and the body is decorated with a relief motif of a bringer of good luck such as a treasure ship, the god of wealth, the pine, bamboo and plum trees, Ebisu, a carp swimming up the waterfall, and “Ichi-fuji, ni-taka, san-nasubi (Mt. Fuji at the first, hawk at the second, eggplant at the third).” It is distinctive that real hair is used to make its eyebrows and it has glass-made eyes. This daruma is a long-beloved item as a mascot or a bringer of good luck.
According to one widely-accepted opinion, Matsukawa Daruma was named after Matsukawa Toyonoshin, a retainer of the Date clan and the person who created this daruma about 170 years ago. The daruma dolls were produced by low-ranked warriors of the domain as their side jobs. Different from daruma dolls made in other areas, Matsukawa Daruma has black eyes. According to one opinion, this was because warriors were concerning about their one-eyed lord, Date Masamune.
Matsukawa Daruma was originally made in a much more simple style. It was Takahashi Tokutaro (1830-1913), or the Buddhist sculptor Mentoku II, that improved it into the present gorgeous doll.
Takashiba Deko House is a village in Takashiba, Nishida Town, Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture.
Deko house is a general name for five houses that have kept making Miharu dolls and spinning tops for many generations. The word 'deko' comes from 'deku', another word for a doll.
Takashiba Deko House makes Miharu spinning tops and red cattle dolls (one of Fukushima's symbols), as well as many talismans and good-luck charms like long-nosed goblins, droll fellows and stone-carved shrine dogs.
In the studio of Takashiba Deko House, visitors can observe working craftsmen who have inherited this 300-year-old tradition. Moreover, visitors can try painting, too.
Takashiba Deko House is a small village that preserves Fukushima's doll culture, and is a place that we should continue to preserve.
Kaminoi is a well in Hyugadomari on Onyu Island, in Saiki Bay, Oita Prefecture. The well is submerged at high tide, but it is a spring of clear water.
Jinmu Emperor stopped at Mimitsu Port in Hyuga during his anabasis to the east. He asked the people there for water but they complained of a shortage of water on the island. Then, the Emperor struck his bow in the ground and said 'Come out, water!'. Surprisingly, clear water began to gush out. This is the origin of the Kaminoi well.
The people of Onyu Island appreciated the water and made a fire tower on the shore to see off the Emperor's ship in the night. This is said to be the origin of the Onyu Island Tondo Fire Festival. This festival is still held every January to pray for everyone's sound health. Torches, over 10m high, are set in the ground and their fierce flames give off strong light making a magnificent sight.
Red beko is a famous local folk toy made in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima prefecture.
In the dialect of the Tohoku region, 'beko' means a cow, so 'red beko' is a red cow. The red is said to be effective as a talisman and red bekos are popular as bringers of good luck.
About 1200 years ago, in 807, Tokuichi Taishi built Fukuman-Kozoson in Enzoji Temple. At that time, much wood was brought from the village near the upper Tadami. But the Tadami River was so fast-flowing that the conveyance was difficult. Then, a herd of cattle came from somewhere and helped to carry the wood.
Conveying the wood was very hard, many cows could not make the journey, and only a red cow survived and kept working. The story spread and red beko became a popular gift to encourage the growth of a child and as a charm to ward off plagues.
Hagoita, or kogiita as they were known in olden times, were used as decorative battledores or presented as New Year gifts. Hagoita were believed to repel evil, and had connotations of healthy growth.
In the late Edo period, a Chinese technique called 'oshi' was first used for hagoita. A design is made, then cardboard is tacked against a board, which is covered with cloth to give a 3-d effect.
At that time, the merchant Edo culture had entered a mature stage with the creativity of ukiyo-e, woodblock prints of popular subjects. Like ukiyo-e, hagoita featured similar designs with portraits of Kabuki actors being very popular. At the annual year-end fairs in Edo, many people bought hagoita with portraits of popular actors.
Even today, beautiful hagoita make a popular gift to bring luck at New Year or to be presented as a special gift.
Mizuhiki is decorative paper twine often tied around an envelope containing a monetary gift on an occasion of celebration or sorrow. Mizuhiki is made from washi (traditional Japanese paper) cut into long thin strips which have been twisted into string. It is then stiffened by coating with glue. It originated as long ago as in the Asuka period (6 - 8 century) when it was used to tie an offering during religious services.
Often one or two combinations of colors are used in Mizuhiki which is said to be originally based on the ancient Japanese dress code of social standing or the Chinese Yin and Yang principles. Each color, number of twines used, and the way of tying has a subtle but significant meaning. Though there are regional differences, in many cases, a combination of red and white or gold and silver is used for an occasion of celebration while black and white or silver and white for a more somber or sorrowful event. A bow tie Mizuhiki, which can be retied easily, means “we want this joyful celebration to happen again many times”. Expressing ones feelings discreetly through Mizuhiki is a beautiful Japanese tradition.
Nogomi clay bells in the shape of Oriental Zodiac animals are folk craft of Kashima City, Saga Pref. These bells were first made in Nogomi soon after the World War II. The founder of Nogomi bells was Teruji Suzuta, a dye artist. He had been thinking of making something that would make the postwar savage society more pleasant, and had an idea of designing clay bells because he had liked folk toys since young. Initially it was his sideline, but unsatisfied with being engaged only in designing, he made a trial piece himself and at last opened “Nogomi Clay Bell Workshop”. After his death, his son Shigeto followed his father’s footsteps and has been creating many dolls in different designs. His dolls have been taken up as the motifs of New Year’s stamps twice. The bright coloration fascinates a lot of collectors. The dolls in the shape of the new year’s Zodiac sign are made in every December, and they are very popular as the bringers of good luck.
Ema are wooden plates on which people write their prayers. Then they are hung up at a shrine as offerings to the gods. Ema usually take a shape of pentagon because the plates used to have roofs on them. Ema have a history going back to the Nara period (710-794), when a picture of a horse was offered to a shrine instead of a real horse. Each shrine uses its unique and traditional Ema. At Fushimi Inari Shrine, for example, the face of a fox is painted on the plate because a fox is considered to be the god’s messenger. On Ema for the wish of preventing eye diseases, a Japanese hiragana letter of “me (meaning an eye in Japanese)” is written. Or the inverted letter of “me” is written on some plates. Those who want to prevent their husbands’ flirtation use Ema with the Kanji meaning “heart” and the picture of the lock and key drawn on them. In the present days people also like to attach miniature Ema to their key chains or cell phones as bringer of good luck.