The Hagoita: A Traditional Gift for Japanese Baby Girls

Updated on May 25, 2018

As the first heavy snowfall came to a city outside Tokyo, I was born in front of a bemused crowd of nurses and doctors, who were apparently impressed with the vocal delivery methods employed by my dear and very not-Japanese mother.

A couple of days after I returned from the hospital with my parents, a local restaurant owner and friend of my parents visited our apartment to deliver a gift. It was a beautiful display case, with a music box at the base and handmade ornaments. Framed in the center of it all was the image of a beautiful woman, made of silk fabric, who was attached to a simple and crisp wooden paddle.

The paddle is known as a hagoita, and it is a gift traditionally given to Japanese baby girls. Though the hagoita given to me managed to survive the trip home from Japan to California, plus 23 more years in the basement of our flood-prone house. Now it sits in the living room in my apartment. It may have taken me quite some time, but I've finally pulled together the gumption to figure out what it means and why it was given to me. Read on to discover the background, history, and tradition behind this beautiful gift!

My hagoita. Pretty, huh?
My hagoita. Pretty, huh? | Source

Hanetsuki in Action!

What Are Hagoita?

Hagoita are wooden paddles used to play a Japanese game called hanetsuki, which is similar to shuttlecock or badminton (but is apparently known in English as Battledore). Hagoita are used to hit small feathered shuttles known as hane. Hanetsuki, unlike badminton, is played without a net, and is also primarily played by girls and women.

The game traditionally proceeded as follows: two players would bat the hane back and forth as in an informal, netless game of badminton. If one player misses the hane and it falls to the ground, some ink is smeared onto that player's face. The game would proceed until one player's face was entirely smeared with ink. Sounds like a good time to me!

In addition to serving as a gaming implement, hagoita have several symbolic meanings. Varying sizes of hagoita represent girls' growth, and the paddles also symbolize safety and health.

One explanation of the connection between hagoita and safety is the role they play in the game of hanetsuki. The traditional hane (shuttlecock equivalent) is made from soapberry seeds and feathers. Mukuroji, the Japanese word for soapberry, is written with characters that mean "a child not suffering from illness," hence an association between hagoita and good health may easily be drawn. What's more, the hane is said to resemble a dragonfly, an insect known for eating mosquitoes, and therefore mosquitoes are thought to be afraid of hanetsuki gaming implements. Extra bonus!

The positive associations with hagoita, combined with the ornate decorations they began to sport, eventually made them natural gifts to give to baby girls on their first New Year after they are born (known as hatsu-shogatsu) to bestow them with good luck and protection. The general mythology is that the baby girl may swot away bad luck with the beautiful paddle given to her.

An equivalent gift to give to baby boys is a hamayumi—an exorcism bow and arrow associated with the Shinto religion—which the boy may use to shoot away the very same bad luck (by shooting at a target).

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Another Hagoita in a display caseHagoita not intended for display onlyMy hagoita in its case
Another Hagoita in a display case
Another Hagoita in a display case | Source
Hagoita not intended for display only
Hagoita not intended for display only | Source
My hagoita in its case
My hagoita in its case

The History

Hanetsuki as a game has origins in China, and originally acted as a rite during exorcisms. It developed into a game for girls amidst the Muromachi period (spanning from 1333-1568).

While the original paddles were no doubt plain, the Japanese have an amazing talent for making nearly everything visually stunning, so it comes as no surprise that hagoita soon began to sport decorations, and that these decorations soon became elaborate. By the Edo Period, which lasted from 1615-1867, beautifully adorned hagoita were regularly sold at traditional fairs called hagoita ichi.

The actual decorations on these paddles are fascinating. Super fancy hagoita act as canvases for three-dimensional reliefs that are painted and embellished with beautiful printed fabrics, ribbons, cords, paper decorations, and artificial flowers.

In the early days, hagoita were adorned with images of popular kabuki actors or gorgeous Edo ladies (sort of the contemporary equivalent of putting that gorgeous specimen of a human being Joseph Gordon-Levitt on your baseball bat or tennis racket, I suppose. Please excuse me while I swoon).

Today, hagoita displaying famous politicians, celebrities, anime characters, musicians, actors (my god... do you think an actual Joseph Gordon-Levitt hagoita exists???), and sports stars (including David Beckham- don't believe me? Watch the video below) can be found right along those embellished with more traditional designs. They may cost anything from around $50 to $5,000 or more depending on the size, materials used, and artist.

The Asakusa Hagoita Fair

The Tradition

Hanetsuki is traditionally played around New Year's, and in preparation for game play, a hagoita market (known as Hagoita-ichi) is held each December at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Hagoita are typically displayed in people's homes from mid-December through mid-January.

Because hagoita have a traditional reputation for warding off evil, they sometimes adorn doors as a symbolic form of protection.

The tradition surrounding the actual game of hanetsuki is that the longer the hane is kept in play, the more protection the players might expect from mosquitoes in the coming year. Sadly, the game is not so frequently anymore- I mean, let's be honest... it is hard for a wooden paddle to compete with a Wii remote. Most hagoita today are used for display only, and many of the traditions and symbolic aspects of these interesting objects is fading into obscurity.

Now that you have learned about hagoita, I hope that you will share their meaning and history with your friends so that the legacy of this beautiful object might be kept alive!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        LBeautystar 6 years ago

        I've never heard about this kind of dolls! Super!

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks Penny Circle! I was pretty proud of my Beckham reference.

        Thanks so much, KoffeeKlatch Gals! I am honored to have been given such a lovely gift. It's a beautiful tradition indeed!

        I'm glad to have given you a bit of extra background on the paddle, felicitylovespari!

        And so true, eh RedElf? I rather like the triple tasking that hagoita do- they're good luck, they're pretty, and they're gaming implements!

      • RedElf profile image

        RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

        It's fascinating that an object used to exORcise evil spirits would be converted to beautiful object to exERcise girls - :D Great hub, Simone - as always, informative and interesting.

      • felicitylovespari profile image

        felicitylovespari 6 years ago

        Those are cute. I have seen photos but never even knew what they were called. Thanks for the informative hub about the Hagoita.

      • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

        Susan Hazelton 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

        Simone, your hagoita paddle is gorgeous. The game sounds fun, I hope the ink is washable. :) I enjoyed reading about the paddle, game and history. I hope it remains tradition to give these beautiful paddles to the newborn girls. A beautiful tradition.

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for stopping by, y'all!

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 6 years ago from Germany

        Very interesting tradition. Never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing.

      • prasetio30 profile image

        prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

        Wow... this was so beautiful. Thanks for share with us. Vote up and useful. ~prasetio

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thank you cheerfulnuts! I don't think I'll ever be using mine for a game, hahaaa... but they sure are fun to display!

        I bet there are a lot of antique hagoita out there, theseattlegirl. I've seen some that are pretty worn because they've been played with, but the better kept ones do seem to withstand the test of time quite well. Don't you love the practice of omiyage?? (you totally spelled it right, BTW)

        Thank you for stopping by the Hub, Hyphenbird!

        And I do feel quite lucky to have a hagoita of my own, carriethompson. I feel silly about not really displaying it until now.

        I'm with you on hanetsuki, Angelique Newman! I especially love the ink idea... hahaa, it would be really fun to get all messy while playing!

      • Angelique Newman profile image

        Angelique Newman 6 years ago from Canada

        Great Hub Simone! The Hanetsuki game sounds quite fun. I sure hope the hagoita legacy stays alive :)

      • carriethomson profile image

        carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

        That’s beautiful, never heard of it before, you are lucky to get a gift like that :) that video with those girls playing seems fun!! Would love to play this game some time :) if I get a chance. thanx!!

        carrie

      • Hyphenbird profile image

        Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

        This is fascinating information. I love to learn about other customs, culture and history. Thanks for a virtual visit!

      • theseattlegirl profile image

        theseattlegirl 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

        This is fascinating! I wonder how many antique versions of these are out there? I have to imagine they age beautifully. Well out of my price range, at any rate.

        I love the Japanese gift-giving culture. I have several Japanese friends who have acculturated me to the practice of "omiyage" - I'm sure I butchered the spelling there. Hagoita was a new one to me, though!

      • cheerfulnuts profile image

        cheerfulnuts 6 years ago from Manila, Philippines

        Simone, thanks for introducing to us the hagoita and the hanetsuki game. I'd love to have those beautiful hagoita! If I have one, I might not use it for the game though.:)

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, holidappy.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://holidappy.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)