Roundness (hito-marume)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


This topic relates to some haiku of Kobayashi Issa.

round mochi ricecakes

quoting Chris Drake

hito-marume suru tote mochi no sawagi kana

so much wild effort
to make one rice cake
completely round

Kobayashi Issa 一茶

This is a 12th-month hokku written just before New Year's, when villagers get together to make round rice-cakes for the New Year's celebrations. It is a complex process that requires many people, and usually all the able-bodied villagers are given at least a small role in order to make them feel like they're part of the village. First glutinous rice is steamed until it becomes an amorphous mass, and then this great blob of jelly-like rice is put into a wooden mortar (often a section of tree trunk hollowed out at the top) and beaten again and again with large wood mallets.

Often people stand in a circle around the mortar and chant or sing or urge the others on, and scores of people may actually take turns beating the mass of rice, often with three or four people beating in a coordinated way to the same rhythm. When the rice finally becomes about the consistency of dough, it's taken to a table or stand, where other people knead it with their fists and mould it with their hands until it becomes as perfectly round as they can make it. It resembles a birthday cake in size and is called a "mirror rice cake," since it's round like an ancient polished metal mirror. Usually many rice-cakes are made, and a slightly smaller round rice-cake is placed on top of the larger one. Then both are placed before a small shrine to a god or to one's ancestors.

. Kagamimochi 餅鏡 for the New Year .

In Issa's hokku the round rice-cakes are made with especially great care, since in the Reformed Pure Land sect the first sets of two "mirror rice-cakes" are placed before 1) the main buddha image, usually Amida Buddha, and 2) the image of the sect founder Shinran. The placement was done on the last day of the 12th lunar month, and the rice-cakes were left there until 1/4, when they were removed and eaten. Issa may have witnessed the process of making such rice-cakes several days before the end of the year at his local Reformed Pure Land temple, where a large number of believers probably gathered to make rice cakes to the best of their ability in order to honor and thank Amida Buddha and Shinran.

The believers were also probably enjoying themselves as they work together in a festive mood, and Issa himself may have made one or two hits on the mass of rice with a mallet, though he was recovering from an illness, so he may have simply watched. In any case, he enters a state of wonderment at how so many people can be working so hard together, uninhibited by their normal, everyday work habits, to make these small round objects that suggest perfect roundness. He seems to view the round rice-cakes to be the embodiment of their work-meditation, during which people became a single round group moving to the rhythm of their desire to offer themselves to Amida and to each other.

Three years earlier Issa used a somewhat similar image with which to think about roundness (here, sphericality) as a form of spiritual perfection reminiscent of the Pure Land:

how measure
this roundness?
dew on the lotus

hito-marume ikura ga mono zo hasu no tsuyu

In a hokku written just before this one -- no. 3 below, placed three hokku earlier than no. 2 in his diary -- Issa ironically suggests that each dewdrop on a lotus contains half a gallon of water, an obvious exaggeration that mocks all estimates of their size, since their true size and volume are determined by their ability to give humans the feeling that the perfection of the Pure Land, which is full of lotuses, is also possible at moments on this earth.
Here is the earlier hokku:

each round drop
holds half a gallon --
dew on the lotus

hito-marume isshou-zutsu ya hasu no tsuyu

In hokku 2, which follows soon after no. 3, Issa ups the ante and ironically (zo) asks how anyone could think of measuring a circumference and volume for this perfect roundness. There seems to be a sort of sublime reverberation in hokku no. 2: the striking dewdrop demands to be seen and estimated, even though the viewer knows it is finally beyond any kind of measurement at all.

Chris Drake

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

One Stroke, One Circle
. ensoo 円相 .


"... The ungraspable, holeless dharma, founder of Zen as pointed out in "Do-nothing Sea Slugs", is more or less one with the Taoist creation god, Pangun, and the sea slug. Unlike the Buddha whose thin manifestation are sometimes female, the dharma always has a beard in addition to a robe, but the main purpose of the beard would be to erase his neck (as the robe earases his limbs) and maintain his original form as a single torso.

This roundness is represented in the sweet-rice (mochi) cakes offered to the Daruma (usually
represented by a sumie painting in the tokonoma art-nook):

"daruma day
eating the round form
of the mochi"
(達磨気やその門相の餅くらひ) 子茶1759)

and that might be called namako mochi, in which case, ...

What I didn't point out before is that Dharma, and the radical "believe nothingism" Zen he preached, was perfectly compatible with Confucianism as well. Zen was the Confucian classics-
reading samurai bureaucrats religion of choice for it was perfectly compatable with, indeed demanded disbelief. ..."

from "Rise, Ye Sea Slugs" page 111 - 112,
Robin D.Gill
source : books.google.co.jp


Darums smiles
from a big round mochi -
Happy New Year !

Gabi Greve


zenmai no no no ji bakari no jakkoodo

the zenmai fern
is all round and round (like the character  の ) -
Jakko Paradise

Kawabata Boosha 川端茅舎 Kawabata Bosha

The roundness of the new fern is compared to the promised paradise.

Look at a photo here :
. WKD : Spring Vegetables .

Related words

***** . WASHOKU - all kinds of mochi ricecakes.
Pounding Rice (餅つき mochi tsuki)
kigo for mid-winter
- - - - and
Kagami mochi ... 鏡餅  Decoration Rice cakes for the New Year
kagamibiraki 鏡開き "opening the mirror"
kigo for the New Year


the full round shape in the sky

. Moon in autumn (aki no tsuki) .

Dancing in a circle
. Bon odori 盆踊 .

Temari balls, stitched by a loving mother
. Temari decorated handballs 手毬 .

Exchanging balls festival

. Tamakae matsuri 玉替祭 .


. WKD - LIST of haiku topics and keywords  


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