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Motif Information
Motif hyotan 01.jpg
Rōmaji Hyōtan
English Gourd
Kanji 箪, 瓢箪, 瓢簞
Kana ひょうたん
Season Autumn
Seasonal Exceptions Summer
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Vegetable

Hyōtan refers to the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). Hyōtan grow on a vine which may be trained up a trellis or allowed to grow down from a thatched roof. If harvested early, the fruit may be eaten as a vegetable. Allowed to grow to full size and then dried, hyōtan make excellent natural containers.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Saru suppressing namazu with hyōtan (ひゃうたん鯰, 1857) by Utagawa Kunisada in the collection of Amherst College
Replica of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's sennaribyoutan battle standard on display at Shin-Osaka Station

Mature hyōtan are harvested in the autumn, but vines with flowers alongside immature hyōtan may be worn in the summer.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

According to legend the islands of Japan rest on a giant fish, Namazu, whose all-too-lively quivering causes devastating earthquakes. The god Kadori Myojin tries to keep the unruly fish calm with the aid of a magic gourd.

Auspicious Nature

A traditional use for hyōtan was as a container for medicine or seeds. Seeds kept in hyōtan were believed to have a higher germination rate (perhaps due to being protected from moisture). This auspicious association with protection and medicine made hyōtan a popular motif for amulets against sickness.

Six gourds (mubyōtan, 六瓢箪) is homophonous with mubyō (無病), meaning "no illness."

Hyōtan are also highly associated with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, whose battle standard, sennaribyoutan (千生瓢箪, lit. thousand gourds), was made up of one hyōtan for every victory.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Hyōtan can vary in shape, but are usually depicted as hanging from a vine. They are most easily confused with eggplant, but hyōtan usually have a more pronounced "waist" and are colored green.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Kabuki actor Sawamura Tossho II as Mashiba Hisayoshi (真柴久吉 沢村訥升, 1871) by Toyohara Kunichika in the collection of the British Museum

During the Meiji era, mentions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi were subject to censorship. Plays and prints of this period bowdlerize his name to Mashiba Hisayoshi. The audience was more than aware of the true subject of the work, and additional clues, such as hyōtan motifs on the actors clothing were included as to the character's true identity.

Hyōtan are associated with the fourth chapter of the Tale of Genji, where Genji stops to admire some gourd flowers blooming on a fence. When he stops to have his servant pick some for him, the lady of the house has a scented fan sent out to place the flowers on.[1]

Several Japanese proverbs and idioms include gourds, including, hyōtan kara kouma ga deru (瓢箪から駒が出る, Lit. A horse emerges from a gourd)[2] meaning an unexpected thing can happen.

In folklore, kappa are said to hate hyōtan as much as they love cucumbers.

In Poetry

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG


  1. JAANUS Article on Yuugao. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  2. Trimnell, Edward. Tigers, Devils, and Fools: A Guide to Japanese Proverbs. Beechmont Crest Publishing. 2004. p.55.

Image Credits

  • Kokoro
  • Muhvi

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