TOKYO Teshigoto

Oshi-e Hagoita Workshop Creating Battledores Depicting the Chinese Astrological Calendar

Workshop Experience

The Seibu Shibuya store held the “New Lifestyle, Beautiful Lifestyle” exhibition of Tokyo handicrafts between September 11th and November 23rd, 2020.

Several workshops involving craftsmen as instructors were held in one corner of this under the theme of “Experiencing Beautiful Traditional Handicrafts” that attracted the “best things” that represent life in Tokyo. Here we introduce one of these in which Suimon Toshihiro, the fifth-generation owner of Suimon Shoten, a store that has been in operation since the Edo period, held a workshop teaching participants about Oshi-e hagoita (Edo raised-cloth battledores).

A special exhibition hall where numerous articles hand-crafted by craftsmen were on display

Oshi-e hagoita cherished in the same way as promotional photographs

When hearing the term hagoita (battledore) most people probably imagine the paddles decorated with pictures and woodblock prints that are used to play the game of battledore and shuttlecock. Contrary to this image, the Oshi-e hagoita are much more three-dimensional. There are sure to be people who have seen these gorgeous hagoita, with their cotton padding and overlapping parts wrapped in silk fabric, at year-end fairs and hagoita markets, etc.

In addition to being used to pray for the healthy growth of young girls, Oshi-e hagoita were traditionally crafted during the Edo period to act the same role as modern-day promotional photographs of kabuki actors, and there are therefore mostly purchased by people who have a deep interest in Kabuki and other Japanese performing arts.

During this hands-on experience workshop, participants created two hagoita depicting the year of the ox, which is the Chinese astrological calendar year for 2021. Suimon Toshihiro laughed as he explained that replacing the saddle sandwiched between plum blossoms and pine firs, we could be able to create a hagoita commemorating the three auspicious elements (in Japanese culture) of shochikubai, or pine, bamboo and plum.

The women born in the year of the ox who took part in the workshop all selected the patterns they preferred. Another couple selected different patterns.
Lining them up like this for decorative purposes is rather nice.

A virile ox with a full moon, and a cute pine, bamboo and plum ox

The craftsman’s skills are on full display as he wields his tools

Once the desired patterns were chosen, we started to make the hagoita. First, we applied the glue, then attached the background hill and sky, and then, believe or not, we had to sit on them. Apparently, sitting on them applies the appropriate level of pressure to ensure that everything sticks firmly.

The glue is applied evenly throughout, with a thin coat on the edges and a thicker coat in the center.

Next, we applied glue to the backing paper that had previously been padded with cushioning, wrapped them in cloth and attached them with the use of a hot iron.

Watching Suimon Toshihiro pressing down on the backing paper with his left hand and pulling the edge of the cloth as he applied the iron with his right hand, all the while explaining what he was doing, looked like a simple chore, but in fact, it was rather difficult. It turned out to be a continual battle, because if you pulled too much, there would be insufficient overlapping width, which would create unevenness. Suimon Toshihiro corrected all of the mistakes we made, and we finally managed to complete the ox and straw bag.

It was stimulating watching the unhesitant skill with which the craftsman used his hands

The joy of crafting the shape of the hagoita

We then cut out the cloth for the ox’s saddle, aligned it with the ox and then attached it while referring to the rough drawing.

Attached with glue while readjusting the position

We then wound the rope and attached the eyes with tweezers until we had created a face that looked rather like a dog. The sense of momentary relief felt when the ox had been completed without mishap was great.

Mischievous eyes

However, once the horns were attached and the nose and hooves colored in, an expression worthy of an ox came into view. We then removed the brightly glittering moons from beneath our buttocks and attached them to the hagoita paddle.

Painting on the nose and hooves with white paint

Attaching the finished ox onto the hagoita paddle completed the task. It may be because of the handle and the saddle, but I got the impression that our effort was more resplendent than the sample hagoita.

The position was fixed by aligning the legs of the ox with the hill

A commemorative photograph together with a kabuki actor hagoita

Encountering Japanese culture

I placed my hagoita out on display the moment I got home.
The hagoita looked very dignified as it stood it on the stand that came with it, and I’m sure that the location I had selected looked much smarter because of its presence.

The compulsion to collect all twelve elements of the Chinese astrological calendar after creating one is what separates us as humans. I felt like I wanted to turn the creation of the Oshi-e hagoita into an annual event.

The final shape of the ox that appears as if it will improve my fortune like a lucky charm

Handicraft exhibitions and workshops are held throughout the country, and they help us come into contact with the Japanese traditions that we somehow overlook. The hands-on experience that I enjoyed provided me with the opportunity to discover the quintessence of this.

If you get the chance, I hope you will visit these workshops and see the skills of the craftsmen for yourself.