Japanese Culture and Social Customs
Part 12 Hyotan

Good Luck Symbols The Gourd (Hyotan)

  We would like to introduce you to the "Hyotan" (which is also the title of this bulletin) as a symbol of good luck. The Hyotan is a plant of the gourd family and bears fruit. Its fruit has a very hard shell and usually narrow in the middle. There is a Japanese saying "Hyotan kara koma ga deru". "Koma" means a horse, but of course a horse can't spring out of a gourd. The meaning is that things can happen in unexpected places. The "Hyotan" bulletin which started 17 years ago took its name from this saying, because it was hoped that our readers would get useful information from it.
  The "Hyotan" or gourd is one of the most ancient garden plants and originates from Africa. Its fruit was used as a food and for tools and drinking receptacles. Part of the summer scenery in Japan was the making of shelves for the growing of gourds, the leaves of which give much welcome refreshing shade. After removing the seeds and drying them, gourds were used as flasks or containers for water, alcohol, medicine and seeds. They were especially used as seed containers over the years, and it was often said that seeds kept in such containers always bloomed successfully. They thus signified happiness or success to people. Their humorous shapes have also always been thought of with affection. There are thus several sayings featuring the word "hyotan". A set of three gourds are a good luck symbol as the sound "san-byoshi sorou" in Japanese. It means a great person all-round. Also a set of six gourds is even luckier, because "mu-byou" means no sickness! Gourds also remind us of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), one of the most well-known historical samurai heroes. Hideoshi's battle ensign was a gourd motif. He would add further gourd motifs to his ensign every time he won a battle. After that, this ensign became a famous symbol of victory, the "Sennaribyoutan" which means one thousand gourds growing on a tree.

(Top of Hyotan)

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