唐子の蝶々遊び (karako no chōchō asobi)
karako (Chinese child) playing with butterflies
This top depicts a karako (Chinese child, or a child dressed in a Chinese fashion) dancing with butterflies. In Japan, these figures are said to be messengers for the God of Luck, sent to do his bidding. They are thought to be good omens.
The image of a Chinese child with butterflies also extends to ancient Japan, when there was a tradition of kochō no mai 胡蝶の舞 (butterfly dance) inherited from China. As a part of gagaku 雅楽 court music performance, four young boys would dress as butterflies, attaching yellow wings to their outfits, and perform dances for the imperial court.
Below, you’ll find a video of Hiroi-sensei explaining the top, along with transcripts of his explanation.
Hiroi Michiaki: This is, um, “A karako (Chinese child) playing with butterflies.” A karako is… [literally] a Chinese child [a child dressed in a Chinese fashion], but in Japan they’re said to be the messengers of the God of Luck. The God of Luck orders them to go do something, “Go here, go there.” And when he requests many things, it is said that this karako goes about taking care of it. They’re good omens. This, if you spin it, the butterflies look like they’re fluttering and fluttering, flying about.
Paula Curtis: Um, in ancient times there was also a “butterfly dance,” right?
HM: Mm. Ahhhh [yes].
PC: From China.
HM: Yes, there is. They move around with the same feeling as that.
Janell Landis: Looks like butterflies flying.
JL: Uh huh.
HM: If you spin it here a little, [it looks that way] because [the butterflies] clatter about.
HM: The butterflies look like they’re fluttering flying about. This is the “Chinese child (karako) playing with butterflies”…