What's this inside a pumpkin (01) ? It's a magic horse! It is the horse of Chokarō, an immortal person. It could travel miles and miles a day without either eating or drinking. In the evening it became tiny and entered a pumpkin. In order to make it come out, Chokarō would spit inside the pumpkin and the horse was ready for another ride!
What was this object used for? It is a netsuke which was used to carry an inrō (a box for medicinal herbs), a pouch for tobacco and money, and everything else you wanted to take with you. The inrō was attached with a cord that passed through the hole of the netsuke.
Netsukes could be made from wood, metal, porcelain, or ivory, just like this one.
But in this room there are many, many other kinds with many stories!
This mouse (02) seems quite real! It is curled up, and with its right paw its holds its tail. What sly eyes it has! Just think: a mouse is the most crafty of all the animals of the Chinese zodiac. In fact, when Buddha was dying, he called all the animals to come to him, but the mouse arrive first by a trick: he climbed onto the back of a buffalo and, just at the right moment, he jumped ahead off ahead of it and so came first!
Help, who is this monster (03) on a bell? It was the once-beautiful Kiyohime who had fallen in love with the monk Anchin. Anchin did not love her and, in order not to be found by her, he hid under the temple's great bell. Kiyohime arrived and, realising where he was, she detached the bell, and Anchin was captured inside it. Kiyohime then changed herself into a monster with the body of a snake and she burnt her beloved monk with the flames of her passion.
Where is this Japanese nobleman (04) going with his strange animal? Is it a horse? No... it has a horn! Of course: it's a kirin! So this is a wise man! Yes, because kirins only appeared to wise men; they were enveloped in flames just like the one here in the museum. Look how strange it is: it has the body of a deer, the hooves and head of a horse, and a horn on its forehead. A kirin is a supernatural creature like its friends the dragons, phoenix, and the Chinese lion. It has a sweet character, walks without trampling down the grass or any living creature, and it is so light that it makes no noise and leaves no imprint. When does it appear? When there is a good government or a wise man.
This scene is depicted on a painted Japanese kakejiku. Paintings in Japan are not like ours and are painted on silk or paper. They are then mounted on a roll like this one, and given a beautiful silk frame. They are hung in the home only for particular occasions and then are rolled up again and placed in their wooden box.
There are very many fantastic animals in the East. Look at this one: it's a phoenix (22), a bird that spits flames, has golden feathers, and has magical gems on its head. When it appears it announces the arrival of a new age. In China and Japan the phoenix is an imperial symbol and represents power and prosperity.
Help! A lion (23)! But we mustn't be afraid, it will protect us. Lions protect people and nature, and this is why in China and Japan there are so many statues of lions in front of the temple doors. Often lions are shown together with peonies, as here. It symbolises the pilgrimage to the sacred Mount Tiantai, in southern China, where a red lion had appeared to the monk Jakusho while it was prowling among the peonies.
What a lovely comb (24): it seems made of gold! But it's actually made of lacquer.
What's represented on it?
There's a hat at the centre. Next to it there's a musical instrument with pipes, a shō, which was played for music at court. In the background you can see the stage with its curtains of precious material showing phoenixes. It must have been a beautiful show!
How was it used? Japanese ladies used combs of various shapes and sizes to help with their elegant hairdos. They wore no jewellery and these combs were their only ornaments.
The women combed their hair in front of a piece of furniture with a mirror, called a kyodai (29), just like this one. They put the makeup brushes in the drawers together with the combs and everything else used for beautifying themselves, just like our own mothers!
But here's a party! A wedding (37)! A beautiful bride! And this is the moment for giving presents, right here on the smallest cup; on this other one (38) is the dressing of the bride, then there is the wedding march (39) and, finally, the wedding ceremony (40).
These cups (sakazukis), covered in lacquer and gold, were for drinking sakè. No - don't drink it, you're too young! You'll get drunk! Sakè is obtained from fermented rice. These cups were in sets of three or five pieces and were made from light wood and then lacquered.
This other sakazuki shows six shojos (41), drunken imps who, with their chubby faces, seem to be having great fun: they have overturned the big empty sakazuki!