The History and Varieties of Kazari Goma: Decorative Chess Pieces as Symbols of Luck
Some auspicious symbols in Japan include Mount Fuji and pine, cranes and turtles, maneki neko (the beckoning cat), daruma (dharma doll). The “kazari goma” or a decorative shogi (Japanese chess) piece is one of these auspicious symbols. For those who are interested in kanji and calligraphy, the appearance of the kazari goma itself may evoke a sense of beauty. This article will explain the kazari goma as well as meanings behind the letters carved in the individual pieces. Ref: Photo
About the Kazari Goma
This is a decorative ornament that was developed in Tendo of Yamagata Prefecture, which is a famous producer of shogi pieces. Pieces of wood shaped like a large shogi piece, with vivid wood grains are used. On it, kanji characters are hand carved one by one, then, ink is poured in the crevices. The main usage is as a decorative element for offices and stores. We still see them in the entrance of traditional sushi restaurants and it symbolizes the hopes of welcoming lots of business into the establishment. Other than such places, they are used in the entrance of people’s homes or used as gifts. In recent years, the number of craftsmen making these has diminished and it is said that places that produce them outside of Tendo in Yamagata Prefecture are close to none.
The Types of Kazari Goma
1. Hidari Uma (The Left Facing Horse)
This character is the most famous and common to be depicted on kazari goma. For those of you who know how to read kanji, you may recognize that there is something strange about this character. Indeed, this is the “hidari uma” which is a mirror image of the character “馬” for horse. Such a character does not actually exist.
It originates from the way the character is read. The character for horse “馬” is read u-ma. Uma read backwards is ma-u (dance). It’s this wordplay that Japanese love. Traditionally, dance was performed for celebrations and therefore, associated with bringing in good luck. Thus the character of the left-facing horse carried a meaning of good luck. The kazari goma that is often seen in traditional restaurants bears this hidari-uma character.
2. Osho (King)
3. Fufu Goma (Husband and Wife)
The fufu goma pieces (fufu means husband and wife, koma/goma means chess piece) is sometimes gifted for weddings or wedding anniversaries. The black hidari uma symbolizes the man and the red character for a standard horse symbolizes his wife. Even without knowledge of the Japanese culture, the appearance of the characters as a set may perhaps convey a sense of a happy couple. They symbolize hopes for a happy couple and fertility.
Kazari goma are an item that really conveys a sense of Japanese culture. How about one for your company office or for the entrance of your home? We are starting to feel that a hidari uma may be a nice addition to our office.