This piece depicts young women, known as saotome 早乙女, doing rice planting. Traditionally, young women would go out into the rice paddies to plant seedlings in the fields during the rainy season, often wearing red waistcloths and straw hats. Although most rice planting is done by machine now, some places in Japan continue to celebrate this traditional method. Here, the hats and bodies of the figures can be removed and turned into tops.
Hiroi Michiaki: What is this? Ahh, this is rice planting. This isn’t a top, but, –ah, here, wasn’t there another piece here? This. Um, long ago, this is paddy fields and rice planting, and, ahh, ah, ah, isn’t it right about this time of year? A number of people do this, and these are people who are planting the rice, saotome (young female rice planters).
Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.
Hiroi: Were they called saotome? In the past, the rainy season was later than it is now, so when it was rainy, they would plant the rice. So in the paddy fields a number of girls would line up and they’d wear these red waistcloths and plant rice. The top is shaped like that. It’s the same [as that].
バテレン当て独楽 (bateren ategoma) priest roulette-style top
This top depicts a priest. When Catholic missionaries began to enter Japan in the sixteenth century, they were known as bateren バテレン, a word that comes from Portuguese padre, “father.” Most of the first missionaries entering Japan during this time were Portuguese Jesuits. Here, Hiroi-sensei has depicted a sixteenth-century priest with exaggerated frills at his neck to form the base of the roulette-style top, which features Roman numerals. A roulette-style top is a kind of game. Someone spins the handle at the top, and the priest’s long nose lands on the winning number on the base.
Hiroi Michiaki: Umm what was this? What is it called? A bateren [priest]. Yeah. It’s a bateren roulette-style top. I asked Landis-sensei what a bateren was, and she said she didn’t know. It’s sort of what Christians used to be called in the past.
Paula Curtis: Yes. In the sixteenth century.
Hiroi: Ahh, the sixteenth century. That long ago? Hmm…
Paula: Yeah, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Hiroi: Ohhh it’s that old?
Hiroi: Then Landis-sensei wouldn’t know, huh? Heh heh heh. Ahh I see. It’s someone from that time period, and I made a roulette-style top game from it.
ミノ虫飛び出しの中の独楽 (minomushi tobidashi no naka no koma) bagworm larva leaping out top
This top depicts a bagworm larva, the larval stage of the bagworm moth. They are sometimes called “case moths” because their caterpillars build little protective cases in which they gestate. As they emerge, bagworm larva pop their heads out of their case to eat the leaves of the tree they inhabit. In Japan, their popular image is related to the top of their case looking like a straw raincoat. Bagworms are often used as a subject for seasonal haiku in the fall. For this top, Hiroi-sensei depicts a bagworm popping out of its case, which is attached to a tree branch.
Hiroi Michiaki: And what was this? Ahh, we talked [about this]. The bagworm larva? The bagworm larva doesn’t have a body.
Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.
Hiroi Michiaki: Bagworm larva dangle [from branches] like this. From here. It’s a top with that sort of shape, one that leaps out. The bagworm inside jumps out, and it’s wearing a bowtie.