Myth of Hyotan (Calabash) Motif

By August 1, 2014Design, Japanese Design

Last weekend, I visited a bazaar held at a Japanese temple. It was a sweet tiny bazaar with a variety of Japanese snacks and hungry people. There was a small section to sell knickknacks where I got the two small calabash plates above. I think they are cute, summery, and perfect to serve hors d’oeuvre.

This reminds me that I often see calabash motif design, but I really don’t know what it means. If you have some ideas about Japanese or Chinese design, you would know that every motif has a meaning. So, I did some quick research and figured out that the calabash is a symbol of several goodies. Today, I would love to introduce the powers of the calabash along with pretty calabash pictures.

 

Power 1: Avoiding Bad Luck

There is a proverb “to Catch an eel with a calabash,” which means something very hard. A calabash is a symbol of something hard to grab here because of its shape and slippery surface. If we can’t grab a calabash easily, neither can devils. In this way, ancient people hoped that they would avoid bad luck if they had a calabash with them.

Writing Box with Design of Gourd and Butterfly by Shibata Zeshin (柴田是真), Photo by  Peter Roan

Writing Box – photo by Peter Roan

 

Power 2: Prosperity of Descendants

A calabash makes so many seeds. This made it a symbol of fertility and prosperity of descendants.

Gourds at Dazaifu Tenmangu, Japan - photo by  Chris Gladis

Gourds at Dazaifu Tenmangu, Japan – photo by Chris Gladis

 

Power 3. Health

Six calabashes in Japanese “六瓢 (mubyo)” sounds the same as “無病” which means no sickness. This phenomenon – turning something into a symbol of another thing because of its sound – happens often in Japan and China.

Photo by utpala ॐ

Photo by utpala ॐ

 

Power 4: Successful Business

Calabashes get tangled with other things with the vine and grow in clusters. This evokes for us the situation of catching every chance, having many customers, and making piles of money.

1800s Japanese Imari double gourd vase - photo by  Carl Guderian

1800s Japanese Imari double gourd vase – photo by Carl Guderian

This quick research on the internet definitely changed how I see calabash motif designs. Now, I feel like collecting calabashes or making them for all of the good luck I could get! Who doesn’t hope for more than one of the above!?

Reference: 文様のはなし:「瓢箪」河村康人, てぬぐいの柄と意味

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