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  • Item Category: Ethnic, Folk & Native American Art
  • Source: eBay
  • Sold Date: Sep 30, 2007
  • Channel: Auction House


Antique carved wooden carp. This carp hung over a Japanese fireplace to adjust the height of kettle over the fire. The carp is 17 inches long and 10 inches high at the tail. An iron hook the jizai kagi is attached at the bottom. The carp has a carved ball in his mouth that rotates.

The center of a traditional Japanese home was the irori - the fireplace in the middle of the room. Handing over the irori was a hook called the jizai kagi . This is an adjustable hook used to hang a kettle or pot over the fire coals in the sunken hearth. It is made of rope strung through a piece of bamboo. The lever on the jizai kagi is called kozaru or little monkey, because it climbs up and down the rope depending how close to the heat you'd like your kettle to be. The kozaru was often carved in the shape of a carp or other water related motif. Water being the anti-thesis of fire this served as a talisman against the spread of fire.

Sunken hearths known as irori are the home of the Japanese fire god.

The cozy Japanese hearth is traditionally found just w you would expect it: in old thatched, wood-framed farmhouses. You may also, occasionally, come across them in rustic-style restaurants and tea ceremony rooms, w water is heated in an iron kettle suspended over a charcoal fire. In central and northern Japan , in the still deeply rural areas w the winters are long and cold, it serves much as fireplaces once did in northern European countries, as a gathering place for family and friends.

Japanese hearths, also serving as cooking ranges and as a hot ring for a teakettle, have no chimney or funnel system, and are located in the middle of the room. Smoke rises to the rafters and beams, which are usually blackened as a result.

Representing warmth, it also symbolizes hospitality. A black tea kettle hangs in perpetual readiness for the next person who will sit down. When this is removed, it signifies its replacement with a cooking pot. Most of the dishes prepared are one-pot affairs, often bubbling vegetable, tofu, meat or fowl stews. Strips of meat and fish are sometimes hung above the fire for curing and smoking. Less commonly seen these days is a hive-shaped pillow of straw into which skewered fish are stuck and then smoked. Other pots, and even jars of heated sake, may be placed around the hearth to absorb its warmth.

Sunken hearth set up as a hot ring for a teakettle in the Yanohara House.

The hearth is constructed of a wooden frame whose walls, embedded in the floor, are lined with plaster. The visible frame is made of plain, occasionally lacquered wood, which is raised slightly above floor level. During the winter months, those setting up the hearth for the tea ceremony will place an iron tripod over the fire and dangle a kettle from it.

Kettles and pots are hung over the hearth by means of an iron hook called a jizai kagi. This is suspended in turn from a wooden hanger, which is attached to the rafters, creating the appearance of a pulley. A simpler device to hang kitchen pots from is a chain running direct from the rafters. Like a well bucket, pots and kettles can be lowered or raised above the fire by adjusting the hook. Chains are sometimes hidden inside a hollow bamboo trunk, a reference perhaps, to less affluent days when peasant huts had a much modified version of this device, consisting simply of a section of bamboo hanging over the fire with a copper box suspended from it, serving much the same purpose of heating water.

Hearth hooks are a study in themselves and these days you can find them turning up in antique and flea markets. A creative flourish in an otherwise undecorated room, they take several forms varying from a carved wooden fish (usually a carp) swimming horizontally above the pot, wooden gourds, antlers and tree branches. The fish motif remains the most popular as it is associated with water. As this is the opposite of fire, it acts as a talisman. In the abse...