And the Origin of Hakata Bent-wood Objects
Hakozaki Shrine and Bent-wood Objects
"Hako" 箱/筥means "a small box";
"Saki 崎 translates to "a cape on the coast".
Town: Hakozaki is "The Cape with a Small Box"
Hakozaki is an old neighborhood in Fukuoka Japan, and it's name translates to the "Cape with a Box". The area's most famous establishment is Hakozaki Shrine, first built in 921 to commemorate the 15th Emperor Ojin (born 201A.D.), being deified as God Hachiman. When Emperor Ojin was born, the mother Empress Jingu, placed his umbilical cord in a wood box and buried it at the ground of Hakosaki, and ordered to plant a pine tree to mark the spot. The pine tree has since been named as the Box Pine and it is still growing strong in front of the Shrine. (See the pine behind the red fence).
Hakozaki Shrine is one of Japan's 3 major shrines tributing to God Hachiman. The deity is known to be the guardian of travel, arts, scholars and commerce.
Maidashi is an old residential neighborhood in Fukuoka. The old street is narrow lined with a mix of apartments, local shops and eateries, known to be a college community when Kyushu University campus was nearby.
Few centuries ago, it was a bustling town with the main street lined with mage-mono bentwood shops.
Maidashi Mage-mono 馬出曲物
Maidashi is recorded in a doctrine from the late 1600s, to be on the West side of Hakozaki, stretching 2 blocks long with 54 dwelling units. It is known to be the area where people retrieve their horses for shrine activities (Thus named Maidashi "Horse Valet") .
With its proximity to Hakozaki Shrine, it was a flourishing town where many Shrine officials and workers used to live. Up until 1930s, the street leading to the Shrine was lined with over 20 family-run artisans' workshops making bent wood wares for the shrine and for common uses.
In fact, the area bent-wood craft used to be called "Maidashi Magemono" 馬出曲物, named after the district. It is currently renamed as "Hakata Mage-mono" and listed as one of the Important Cultural Property for Hakata Fukuoka among other crafts.
Family photo from ShibataToku, showing many artisans working in their shop on Maidashi's main street in the Meiji/Taisho era.
A painting album published in 1917 featuring works by Beizai Kubota , documenting various artisans work of the time. Sanbo stands, water ladles, even the wood clamps lookos identicle to what Shibata is still using now. (Photo credit: Amagasaki City Museum of History, Historic Archive)
Utilitarian ware From Edo to Reiwa period (from 15th century to modern day 21st century)
Magemono ware was at its peak in late Edo period. Aside from shrine wares, people on long journeys would use boxes to carry food. During the same time, audience attending Kabuki shows (the main entertainment of Edo period) would bring packed food in boxes for consumption during intermission.
For those who experienced Kabuki shows in Tokyo or Kyoto, you may remember during intermission, people still whip out bento boxes and the whole theatre would smell of food! The tradition carries on.
Magemono as Ritual Wares
The origin of magemono is believed to be from Hakata (Maidashi area), and artifacts dated it all the way back to 700A.D.
Magemono has a very simplistic look. The fine and smooth natural finish of cypress or cedar symbolizes purity. Some believe this is the reason why it has been adopted as ritual ware for sacred offerings. When Shintoism believes in existence of sacred power in their natural forms. Only the elite and sacred beings can use magemono bentwood wares.
Square trays on high square platforms called Sanbo have deep root in Buddhism. They represent Buddha, Dharma teachings and Monastic order, the 3 components form the core refuge of Buddhism. It is common in Japan to see both Shintoism and Buddhism cross-referencing each other.
For many, the most recognizable Shrine item must be the water ladles placed at the water fountain for washing hands and rinsing mouths.
Eventually, Magemono evolves into a range of utilitarian wares for common uses like bento boxes, sushi rice tubs, confectionary trays, sake vessels as well as traditional tea ceremony utensils.