What is this object from Japan?
November 24, 2011 8:59 PM   Subscribe

My friend brought me this terra cotta rattle/ball back from Japan. What is it? Japanese instructions included!

I'm sure someone who can read Japanese can tell me, her's is not yet that good. She just thought it was cute.

Photo of the object, the box and the little info sheet that came inside the box should be viewable here.

It fits in the palm of my hand, looks to be terra cotta, with a couple of little terra-cotta balls inside that makes it rattle. Given that there's the whole sheet of paper it seems like it could be used for something but... what?
posted by marylynn to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it's a fuku-dama at least (ふく だま). Hope that helps. It's lovely!
posted by krilli at 9:15 PM on November 24, 2011

Dama is probably ball - this is the kanji for ball: 玉 (Interestingly, it's the kanji for "king" but with that small mark added ...)

Looks like fukudama means "fortune ball".
posted by krilli at 9:19 PM on November 24, 2011

Hmm ... not sure if it's fukutama or fukudama. Here are the kanji characters at any rate: 福玉
posted by krilli at 9:24 PM on November 24, 2011

Best answer: It seems to be a charm, made in a particular style of ceramic ("Ryukyu-yaki", which suggests to me Okinawa). The attached paper describes the charm as a "ball which calls fortune and happiness [into itself, collects happiness?]. Its smiling face reflects the tradition of a people which values life, and hopes for peace."
posted by mariokrat at 10:14 PM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to "Fukudama", the paper also calls it a "Nuchidu-dama", which I think is Okinawa dialect.
posted by mariokrat at 10:16 PM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The hiragana gloss above the kanji characters says it's pronounced fukudama. Here's an online shop where you can buy one yourself.

Anyway, according to the info sheet, it is an example of 琉球焼き, or ryukyuu-yaki, pottery from the Rykuu Islands (Okinawa).

According to the explanation, the kind, smiling face on the ball is call a "nochi-dou-dama", where "nochi" means in this case "life".

"The nochi-dou-tama values life above all else."

On preview, mariokrat has translated the rest of it rather well.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 PM on November 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you! It is from Okinawa (sorry for not saying that at the outset).
posted by marylynn at 10:24 PM on November 24, 2011

More on nuchi du takara here (Japanese) and here (English). This is an old Okinawan saying, meaning "life is a treasure" as above. It's said to have been spoken by Shou Nei, the last independent king of Ryukyu (Okinawa), as he submitted to Japanese rule in 1609. It's associated with the peace/anti-war movement today.
posted by vorfeed at 10:56 PM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

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