You might have heard of the Japanese term ”Wabi Sabi,” which is often used for describing the Japanese view of aesthetics: appreciation for simplicity, modesty and imperfection.
Many of the well known Japanese designs such as withered old tea houses, traditional textiles and naturally glazed pottery often reflect Wabi Sabi aesthetics.
But when it comes to decorations relating to prosperity and fortune, spartan simplicity is thrown out the window and the “more is better” mentality takes over. After all, everybody wants all the luck they can get, right?
One of the best “more is better” design examples is the Kumade. These are bamboo rakes, yes rakes, likes the ones you use on the leaves, but smaller and just for decoration. They represent “raking in” heaps of success, wealth and good luck. Many business owners purchase Kumade around this time of year. These extravagant decorations come with different sizes, adornments and prices. Handheld size Kumade are around 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen, but larger ones range from 10,000 yen to 50,000 yen, or even more.
Let’s look at some designs and the meaning behind them.
Here you can see Otafuku (Goddess of Mirth), a smiling white face which brings in good fortune.
Seven Lucky Gods in the middle are each representing different types of good luck such as good health, longevity, wealth, knowledge, happiness, art and beauty. The Lucky Mallet sits next to the seven gods. The mallet appears in the story of “Issun Boshi (One Inch Boy)“ where it grants the boy's wish. Rice barrels are for a good harvest season. And the Koban (Japanese oval gold coin) symbolize, of course, money and fortune.
The Crane and Turtle are also popular in Kumade decorations. As represented in a Japanese saying “a crane lives 1,000 years and a turtle lives 10,000 years,” they both symbolize longevity. In fact, the saying is not too far fetched as both the crane and turtle live much longer than other animals. The Red snapper is hidden under the bamboo leaves. Ebisu, one of the seven lucky gods is always depicted holding a red snapper under his left arm, thus the fish became a symbol of good fortune.
The Owl, a symbol of wisdom in Western culture, holds a special place in Japanese people's heart as well. The Japanese word for an owl is “Fukurou,” which not only includes the word “Fuku (happiness),” but also can be translated into “Fu (no)” “Kurou (suffering).”
So there you have it. Kumade are packed full of symbolism and eye candy. They are often displayed near the entrances of offices and restaurants. When you happen to see them, try finding as many symbols of good luck you can. It’s like a little treasure hunt.
Japanese arts and crafts may be better known for their Wabi Sabi aesthetics. But like many other cultures in the world, Japanese culture is multifaceted and diverse. Simplicity might bring peace and quiet, but embellishment might bring festivity and liveliness. Both are essential parts of Japanese design and I find the juxtaposition very interesting.