When I was thrift-shopping the other day to find interesting things to add to my online stores, I discovered these five little bowls. They are 4.25″ in diameter and 1″ tall. The cats are very cute and the bowls appeared new so I scooped them up for 90 cents each. They are designed look hand done, though if you examine closely, you will see the fingertip marks and other “handmade” flaws are the same on each piece. These were all done in the same mold and the art work, though appearing handpainted, is transfer. Each bowl has the artist’s first name and seal and the name of the featured cat in English.The artist is Hajime Okamoto. He has Westernized his name by placing his given name first and family name following. In Japan he would be called Okamoto Hajime. He goes by Hajime and that’s good enough for me. I decided to do some research on the artist before listing the bowls for sale.
There is not much information available on Western websites about this artist, although he is fairly famous in Japan. His cat series is especially popular. Cats are considered bringers of good fortune. (Such a breath of fresh air for felines after being associated with demons and witches in the West.) Hajime was born in Osaka in 1942. He went to China in the 1980s on cultural exchange to Jilin Province and his work is said to be influenced by his time there.
In 1986 he began displaying his art in China. By the early 1990s his work was exhibited in Osaka and in 1995 a national Japanese gallery exhibit gained him great recognition. His art graces calendars, puzzles, bento (lunch) boxes, plastic rice bowls, chop stick sets, an illustrated kids book and ceramics such as these bowls and matching cups, spoon holders and platters.In 1998 the cats debuted. Hajime says his cats were developed while listening to 1960s jazz and he imagined them as laid-back, relaxed creatures living a slow and free life amid the bustle of humans. They all have names and personalities. Many of his designs feature inspirational sayings about how to be happy.The leader of the cat clan is Kabamaru, a tiger kitty who is always depicted as the largest in the group. Kaba means hippo and maru connotes young male. There appears to be some differing of opinion about the origin and meaning of the suffix maru that is used in so many Japanese names including ships.
Some Japanese say maru means round or circular and it must. It can also signify powerful, a full month, small and round in the face, perfection and purity. But, I found an interesting post by a thoughtful Japanese named Nangi that I think explains the true origin. Ancient Japanese were reputed to be very superstitious. They believed that an evil god or demon named Oni brought pestilence and death. They hoped to fool the demon into not touching their babies by giving them a name that literally meant filth, excrement or feces. Like Hajime-maru, for instance. So maru meant poop.
Over time the suffix took on a broader connotation: a general charm for good luck. It was associated with young boys and also was attached to sailing vessels to help bring a positive outcome for frightening voyages over deep water. All of this tells us the meaning of Kabamaru cat’s name is young male hippo. There are other cats such as Momoji, Sakon, Urume, Tango, Musashi, Inari and Shirorin. I will resist trying to find the translations for their names.The cute little bowls are available in select shops and markets. The prices range from $10-$20 per piece. Some places they are called plates. I believe they are intended to be used at meals to hold side dishes, small servings, sauces, etc. I had no idea I would learn so much researching these simple bowls! They are currently for sale in my eBay store.
Some links I found researching: