cabinet of wonders: omedetai welcome soap
In Japan the tai (鯛) — often translated as ‘sea bream’ even though there’s no precise English equivalent — is a fish that’s associated with good luck because its name rhymes with the Japanese word medetai (目出度い), which means ‘auspicious’ or ‘lucky.’ Because of this, tai is often served during the new year period, or at other auspicious occasions, such as weddings. Ebisu, one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods, is usually portrayed as a fisherman who has just landed an enormous red tai. About.com has a fantastic article about common Japanese expressions involving fish, including the famous saying “kusatte mo tai” (腐っても鯛) — “rotten, but still a tai” — which basically means that a great person who has fallen still retains some of their greatness.
For my birthday this year, I was given a lovely bar of red Tamanohada “Welcome Soap” in the shape of a sea bream. I’m a huge fan of Japanese graphic design, and the Tamanohada box is no exception; the drawing that adorns this box is one of the most pleasing representations of tai that I’ve come across yet. Hopefully the lovely scent of the soap will help to disguise some of my rottenness and bring out the greatness instead.
In addition to the more commonly seen red tai, there is also the kurodai (黒鯛), or “black tai,” which is a fish that’s famously hard to catch. I once spent an entire day out in Osaka Bay fishing for kurodai without netting a single fish. (My companion, on the other hand, managed to net nine.)
Below is a gallery of tai-related photographs that I’ve taken around Japan, with accompanying explanations:
1) Sushi shop mascot in Umeda, Osaka.
2) New Year decoration at Senso-ji temple, Tokyo.
3) New Year display window of Magurobito (まぐろ人) sushi in Asakusa, Tokyo.
4) Kodai (子鯛) — young sea bream — at a ryokan in Obama.
Filed under: cabinet of wonders, culture, design, eating, Japan, scraps and bones | 9 Comments
Tags: auspicious fish, 目出度い, expressions involving tai, 鯛, good luck, luck, lucky fish, omedetai, photographs of tai, sea bream, soap, symbol of luck, tai, Tamanohada, Welcome Soap