Meibutsu

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Meibutsu (名物) literally means "famous thing." It is most often applied to regional specialties (also known as meisan, 名産).

Meibutsu can also be applied to specialized areas of interest, such as chadō where it refers to famous tea utensils or Japanese swords where it refers to specific named famous blades.

Definition[edit]

Meibutsu could be classified into the following five categories:[1]

In the past it also included:

  • supernatural souvenirs and wonder-working panaceas, such as the bitter powders of Menoke that supposedly cured a large number of illnesses;
  • bizarre things that added a touch of the "exotic" to the aura of each location such as the fire-resistant salamanders of Hakone; and
  • the prostitutes, who made localities such as Shinagawa, Fujisawa, Akasaka, Yoshida and Goyu famous. In some cases these people may have encouraged visits to otherwise impoverished and remote localities, contributing to the local economy and the exchange between people of different backgrounds.[citation needed]

Several prints in various versions of the ukiyo-e series The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō depict meibutsu. These include Arimatsu shibori, a stenciled fabric sold at Narumi (station 41) and Kanpyō (sliced gourd), a product of Minakuchi (station 51), as well as a famous teahouse at Mariko (station 21) and a famous tateba (rest stop) selling a type of rice-cake called ubagamochi at Kusatsu (station 51).

Another category are special tea tools that were historic and precious items of Japanese tea ceremony.

Usage[edit]

Evelyn Adam gave the following account of meibutsu in her 1910 book, Behind the Shoji:

The strain of giving would really become unendurable to half the people in Japan were it not for what is known as the "meibutsu" or specialty of each town. This fills in gaps nicely; this provides the answer to vexed questions. "What shall I give to the kind person from whom I have received my twenty-fifth English lesson?" "A meibutsu." "And what shall I send my ailing father-in-law?" "A meibutsu" also, both to be brought back from the next place I happen to visit. The shops there are sure to make a reduction on quantity, well knowing that every person who goes off on a holiday is expected to return with "meibutsu" for everybody he knows, the idea being that a person who has enjoyed himself and had nothing particular to do should try to make up to those left behind in the place where they belong, engaged in the usual dull routine. Help to lift somebody out of the rut by bringing home to him or her some little novelty — that is the kindly spirit — and never mind what the trifle may be. Whether a metal pipe or a bamboo toy, it can be presented with perfect propriety to grandmother or infant grandson.
"Meibutsus" vary greatly of course. Some are sticky like the chestnut paste of Nikko, some are bulky and a source of perpetual anxiety like the fragile baskets of Arima, some are pretty like the Ikao cotton cloth dyed in the iron spring water, and some are useless and ugly and impossible to carry, like the fierce fishes of Kamakura — the fishes which blow themselves up into a globe when angry or excited and then remain blown up — as an eternal punishment I suppose — and get turned into lanterns. There are dozens of all varieties, useful and useless, dear and queer, sensible and silly, so that people with much-travelled acquaintances are soon in a fair way to start a museum. Or, to be accurate, they would be if they kept the things. But nobody does keep them all. The provident housekeeper constantly receiving "meibutsus," and constantly requiring things to send back in return, has invented a system to circumvent the expense. It is somewhat like double entry book- keeping. When the need for the return gift arises, she goes, like old Mother Hubbard, to her cupboard and looks over the parcels that have arrived lately. Distinctive things like blown-up fish may be out of the question, but there are sure to be some local or non-committal contributions. Doubtless there will be eggs hardly a month old yet, and cakes that only came week before last. Either of these will do nicely; therefore the lady wraps them up properly and passes them on. Nine times out of ten, she who receives them does the same; also her friend and her friend's friend, till those eggs or cakes are nearly as travelled as a war correspondent.[2]

Examples[edit]

Prefecture Traditional Crafts Agricultural Products Tokusanhin
 Aichi
 Akita
 Aomori
  • Kokeshi
  • Tsugaru-nuri (津軽塗), lacquerware - Hirosaki
  • Yawatauma, carved wooden horse
  • Apple pie
  • Bara yaki, grilled beef rib meat
  • Igamenchi, minced squid fritter
  • Senbei Jiro, senbei soup
 Chiba
 Ehime
 Fukui
 Fukuoka
 Fukushima
  • Fukushima beef
  • Ikaninjin, squid and carrot in soy-sauce
  • Kitakata ramen
 Gifu
  • Hida beef
 Gunma
  • Isobe senbei
  • Mizusawa udon
  • Yakimanju, grilled manju
 Hiroshima
 Hokkaido
 Hyōgo
 Ibaraki
  • Anko nabe, anglerfish nabe
 Ishikawa
 Iwate
 Kagawa
 Kagoshima
 Kanagawa
 Kōchi
 Kumamoto
  • Higo zogan, damascene
  • Dagojiru
  • Hitomoji no duruguru
  • Ikinari dango
  • Jindaiko
  • Karashi renkon
  • Takamori dengaku
 Kyoto
 Mie
 Miyagi
  • Kinoshita-goma, carved wooden horse
  • Kokeshi
 Miyazaki
 Nagano
 Nagasaki
 Nara
 Niigata
 Ōita
 Okayama
 Okinawa
 Osaka
  • Naniwa tinware
  • Sakaiuchi chef knives
 Saga
 Saitama
 Shiga
 Shimane
 Shizuoka
 Tochigi
 Tokushima
  • Tokushima ramen
 Tokyo
  • Edo bekko, tortoiseshell accessories
  • Edo kiriko (江戸切子), cut glass
 Tottori
 Toyama
  • Hotaru squid
  • White shrimp
 Wakayama
  • Kishu lacquerware
  • Shuro tawashi
  • Yatagarasu Daruma, three-legged crow doll
  • Kagero, cream puff
 Yamagata
 Yamaguchi
 Yamanashi

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ According to a paper by Laura Nenzi cited by Jilly Traganou in The Tokaido Road: Traveling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan (Routledge, 2004), (72)
  2. ^ Evelyn Adam, Behind the Shoji (London: Methuen, 1910), 185–187.