What is this exotic thing?
January 22, 2013 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Would anybody be kind enough to help me by translating some Japanese text of some type, that might help shed some light on a mysterious item that I have had in my posession for several years?

So I've been into geocaching off and on for a good decade or so now. Maybe round 2004 or 2005, I took an item out of a cache on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is a small mask depicting the face of a cow (I'm pretty sure), about the size of a fist. It's quite delicate, made out of plaster or papier mache. Looks like this. I quite like it and have had it displayed in my house ever since.

With the item came a 4x5 piece of paper with some Japanese text on it, and after all these years I'd sure love to know what it says (sorry to say that I don't even know if I've oriented it the right way up).
The inside of the mask also contains a symbol of some kind, painted in gold, seen here. Does it mean anything?

Anyone recognise the mask or accompanying writing as being of any particular significance?
Thanks for the help!
posted by wats to Writing & Language (2 answers total)
Googling "仙台張子" gets me this article: “Sendai Hariko is a kind of toy made from molded and colored paper, on which patterns such as Oriental Zodiac animals, Fukusuke, or various masks are painted. …”
posted by hattifattener at 5:32 PM on January 22, 2013

I have asked Mrs. derMax, who is Japanese. Below is pasted from what she wrote back:

It's a piece of hariko 張子, a folk art that uses papier maché to make various molded and painted items. The item you have is probably an eto 干支 item depicting the year of the bull from the Chinese zodiac.

The piece of paper says it is Sendai Hariko 仙台張子 from the city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture on the northeast coast of Honshu, the main island of Japan. You may know Sendai since it was hard hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Sendai area used to be part of the Date han (feudal region). This form of hariko was originated by a bushi (samurai) of Date han called Toyonoshin Matsukawa 松川豊之進 during the Tempō era (1830–44), in the latter days of the Edo period. He devised the craft as a way for lower level bushi to earn a living by making these items for sale at temples and such.

Eto items like the little bull face the depicts the juuni-shi 十二支 or symbols of the Chinese zodiac were popular, but the most famous type of Sendai Hariko (also called Matsukawa Hariko) may be daruma that are painted with a blue pattern called Matsukawa Daruma, like the ones pictured here. Daruma are are used to wish for good luck. (Wikipedia on daruma.)

Sendai hariko is still popular, especially as souvenirs and/or for luck, and is available around the Sendai area.

Google Image search for Sendai Hariko
posted by derMax at 5:42 PM on January 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

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