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At New Year's, Japan Breaks Out the Rackets
Traditional game paddle hagoita is decorated with kabuki actors, geisha, and celebrities
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-12-23 12:30 (KST)   
A market stall brimming with traditional Hagoita paddles
©2005 D.Weber
The Annual Hagoita Ichi Fair was recently held in Asakusa, Tokyo this month. Around the temple grounds of Senso-ji Temple dozens of market stalls had been set up to display and sell their decorative hagoita. Hagoita in English is known as Battledore but this word doesn't really help many people understand what a hagoita is either. It's best to say that a hagoita is a wooden paddle or racket.

A Hagoita salesman peddling his wares
©2005 D.Weber
In the past, hagoita were used in the game hanetsuki which was similar to badminton. The game was played by girls around New Year's. If a girl missed the shuttlecock (called a hane), her face would be smeared with ink. The game would go on until one girl's face was covered with ink.

Hagoita paddles with modern cute characters
©2005 D.Weber
Hanetsuki also served as a ritual bestowing health upon the players and providing protection from mosquitoes. Because of this belief, the traditional present to a newborn baby girl is a hagoita which is seen as a good luck charm to protect the health of girls.

Anime characters from the past to the near present
©2005 D.Weber
Although hanetsuki declined in popularity, the hagoita became popular in their own right as ornamental pieces. In the Edo Period (1615-1867) decorative hagoita paddles were sold at traditional fairs known as hagoita ichi. Hagoita are decorated with portraits printed on fabric and pasted to a paddle in order to make them protrude like a relief.

Geisha have always been popular Hagoita designs
©2005 D.Weber
Hagoita range in all sizes from small hand-size ones to gargantuan ones nearly the size of a person. Hagoita run from about 500 yen (US$) to 500,000 yen ($) for the extremely large ones.

Hagoita depicting popular Kabuki Characters
©2005 D.Weber
Popular Kabuki characters or actors are the traditional hagoita portrait along with Geisha. Some hagoita portray scenes from well-known Kabuki plays such as the Atsumori incident which occurred during the Gempei War (1180-1185).

Atsumori and Kumagai - two famous figures from Japanese history
©2005 D.Weber
Atsumori is a famous incident from the epic "Heike Monogatari" which tells of the war between the Genji and the Heike clans. At the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, a Genji samurai known as Kumagai captured the young and elegant Heike warrior Atsumori. Taking in account the boy's youth and having recently lost a son of the same age, the Kumagai wanted to release the boy but there were too many Genji warriors about. The boy's fate was sealed either way.

Kumagai took the youth's head humanely with dignity and respect. Kumagai shortly left the life of a samurai and retired to become a monk. The story of the incident has been popularized in Noh and Kabuki plays. At the Hagoita Ichi, one can find many hagoita paddles of all different sizes depicting this scene.

Two hagoita paddles portray a famous woodblock print of a Kabuki actor by Sharaku
©2005 D.Weber
Nowadays, Kabuki hagoita paddles will find themselves next to Hello, Kitty! hagoita along other new popular themes such as anime characters, sumo wrestlers, baseball players, and TV stars.

Modern Celebrities adorning Hagoita
©2005 D.Weber


A saleswoman standing amongst her hagoita
©2005 D.Weber
©2005 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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