Hare in off-white and light red Kutani porcelain, with its original box.
In Japanese, the hare and the rabbit are designated by a single word: usagi. The hare occupies an important place in Japanese legends and superstitions. Like many other animals, it is supposed to reach a fabulous age and become blue at five hundred years old. In Far Eastern art, it is often depicted with the moon, an association that seems to have its raison d’être in an imaginary line that we want to see in this star and that would have the outline of a hare.
The story of the Inaba white rabbit is very famous in Japan.
Okuninushi is one of the many descendants of Susanô, one of the main deities of Japanese mythology. Having to go to the province of Inaba to ask for the hand of the princess Yagami, the 80 brothers of Okuninushi ask her to accompany them to carry their bags. On the way, they meet on a beach a brightly skinned rabbit.
The animal tells them that he has crossed the sea from the neighboring island, where he was bored. In order to reach Inaba, he played with sharks (or crocodiles depending on the version) by asking them to line up in the water to count them by jumping on their backs, and finally solve one of the biggest enigmas in the world: to know which rabbits or sharks are the most numerous. The clever rabbit succeeds in crossing the sea, but when he arrives on the last shark, he confesses to having deceived them and not knowing how to count. Offended, the shark tears off the rabbit’s skin, which still manages to escape just barely.
The 80 brothers of Okuninushi advise the poor animal to throw himself into the sea, then let his skin dry in the wind to heal his wounds. Only the salt contained in the water attacks the rabbit’s raw flesh, which twists in pain under the laughter of the siblings. Okuninushi then advises him to immerse himself in the water of a spring, then to roll in rush pollen. The rabbit does this, its skin heals, and it regains its white coat. In thanksgiving, he predicts to his saviour that he will marry Princess Yagami – which, of course, comes true.
Kutani porcelain is based on the revival in the early nineteenth century of the original Kutani porcelain, made from the mid-seventeenth century in Kutani, in the southern part of Ishikawa Prefecture. This porcelain became popular in the West after its presentation at the 1873 World’s Fair in Vienna.
Signed by Asakura Isokichi (1913-1998) inside the hare.
Japan, Shôwa era (1926-1989)
Height: 5.04 inch – Length: 12.6 inch – Width: 4.33 inch