The Lister List

Noshi By Honda

Date: Fri 07 Mar 2003 05:22:11 -0500

From: DLister891@AOL.COM

Subject: Noshi by Isao Honda

Following my posting yesterday, Kathy Stevick very kindly researched the meaning of the Japanese word "Gomashio".

I suppose I did give the impression that I didn't know the meaning, but what I was really intending to do was to indicate the somewhat remote and abstruse information to be found in Honda's book. He himself gives the answer on page 25, under "Goma-Shio Wrappers, Boxes and Cases" where he writes:

"It is a formal custom in Japan to give a gift in return after receiving a gift. A custom which has been observed for centuries in Japan in regard to the "return gift" is to give the sender a congratulatory gift "o-sekihan" (rice steamed with red beans). Since this is cooked only on occasions where congratulations are in order (New Year is included) presenting it as a return gift means that you wish to share your happiness and joy.

" "O-skehan" is eaten after sprinkling it with a mixture of salt and sesame seed called goma-shio which always accompanies this gift. (When rice cakes are given on a congratulatory occasion, "kinako" (roasted soybean powder) accompanies it.)"

I get the general idea of this, but it remains somewhat obscure and this is a characteristic of Honda's book, "Noshi".

The Goma-Shio wrappers are not considered to be "formal" wrappers like the "tsutsumi" used to wrap gifts of flowers in earlier times in Japan. (Some are given in "Kayaragusa" or the "Kanomado".) Honda includes them under his main heading "Noshi Paper-Foldings - Transition to Play Origami". These are mainly wrappers with such things as cranes, noshi and even paper samurai helmets forming part of the fold. "Fun" wrappers, in fact.

My edition of "Noshi" is also dated 1964. On page 7, it has a red and white "token" noshi attached with a gold strip to represent the mizuhiki strings which are used to tie all actual wrappers or tsutsumi. Actual folded models were a feature of all of Honda's very early books of "play" origami.

Honda's "Noshi" was not a widely distributed book. Perhaps it's more abstruse subject matter was the reason for this. I do not recall a second printing ever being issued. Books on Noshi and other formal wrappers have been published in Japanese, but there is no Comprehensive treatment of the subject in English.

Honda's magnum opus, "The World of Origami" was published in its earlier complete edition, bound in hardback, the following year, 1965. On page 23, it illustrates a formal noshi, such as it attached to gifts, but only briefly. He does, however, mention his earlier book "Noshi". He writes:

"Though, as we said earlier [notice the royal "we" - it's characteristic of Honda], ceremonial origami have all-but vanished from the modern scene. The "noshi" is one example of its surviving to become a part of the daily lives of all Japanese people. Explaining the form and the ancient custom of "noshi" is somewhat difficult, but as I have already said in an earlier work on them (NOSHI - Classic Origami in Japan) a "noshi" is a folded paper ornament which all shops attach to purchases when the purchaser tells them he is buying a gift for someone".

One type of wrapper that Honda does not explain, but which does still survive in Japan (although it is now very much endangered) is the exchange of formal gifts at a betrothal ceremony. Sets of formal representative gifts, each of which has a symbolic meaning, are exchanged between the two families. The gifts number five, seven or nine as agreed. The gifts are purely nominal and are wrapped in the old manner, similar to the old formal wrappings of flowers. Sometimes the wrappings can be very elaborate indeed. In Kyoto I found a shop that sold them.

For all too long, now, I have been intending to write series of short articles on Japanese betrothal and wedding origami. I still hope to manage this, but time is always Noshi so very pressing.

David Lister.

Grimsby, England.


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