Hagoita Paddle

Hagoita Paddle

Do you know the Japanese traditional pastime “Hanetsuki”? This is a popular activity during the New Year? It is a game it involves players hitting badminton shuttlecocks made of soapberry seeds and bird feathers using large wooden paddles called “Hagoita”.

The Hagoita is usually rectangular in shape. When playing “Hanetsuki”, since the Hagoita’s movement is similar to the “Harau” action (a Japanese expression meaning “drive away”), it is thought to be effective to drive away evil spirits and is thus often used as a charm against evil.

In the Edo period, (1603-1868), “Oshie-Hagoita”, paddles designed with images of elegantly made-up Kabuki actors, grew to become popular. The “Oshie” drawings are usually created with washi or cloth cut out in the shape of flowers and people, and then pasted onto the paddle with cottons inside them to give them a three dimensional aspect. Since the traditional “Hagoita” commonly featured portraits of famous kabuki actors, they may have been close to something like the “3D idol goods” of our time. By the turn of the 17th century, a huge variety of “Hagoita” had spread across Japan. Some high quality paddles even used gold leaf and silver foil, and so many different kinds appeared that Japan’s feudal government had to ban and impose constraints on production at one point. Then, at the start of the Meiji period, new technologies allowed the line-up of “Hagoita” to increase even more.

It is said that the history of “Hagoita” in Saitama prefecture dates back to when people were encouraged to produce “Hagoita” as a side business to farming during the off-season in the Edo period. In many cases, one kabuki actor drawn to protrude significantly from the paddle is called “Hitori-dachi”. If the Hagoita features two actors, it is called “Futari-dachi”. Although this is very rare, when five actors are featured on a battle, they call it “Gonin-dachi”. Both men and women get drawn on Hagoita, but the kabuki actors are all men. If women are drawn, they play the role of a “female impersonator (Oyama)”. Hagoita on which men are drawn are considered to be a lucky charm to shake off economic recession. On the other hand, women are portrayed, to represent the celebration of a new-born baby girl.

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