Hagoita - a good luck charm

Hagoita: More than Just for Games

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Hagoita (羽子板 「はごいた」) are Japanese wooden paddles used in the traditional game hanetsuki (羽根突き, 羽子突き). The game, something like badminton, is usually played during the New Year.

A hanetsuki game photographed by Kusakabe Kimbei.

Hanetsuki’s popularity may have declined over the years, but hagoita are still much in demand with their intricate designs and continue to be a decorative item in many Japanese households.

Hagoita are usually rectangular, lacquer-painted with conventional Japanese symbols and characters from kabuki dramas and decorated with silk collages. The origins of the Japanese tradition of playing hanetsuki with hagoita can be traced back to 14th-century China. The game was brought to Japan during the Muromacho Period (1337-1587). The ancient document “Kanban O-nikki” describes Hanetsuki as played by the Imperial Court.

The ancient Japanese believed that diseases could be acquired from mosquitoes, which were eaten by dragonflies. The shuttlecocks in the game Hanetsuki resembled dragonflies. The Japanese started playing the game during New Year to wish that their children would not be bitten by mosquitoes.

Hagoita

The hagoita were also believed to ward off evil spirits during the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period) during the mid 15th century to the early parts of the 17th century. It was during the Edo Period that the wooden paddles gained popularity as gifts to wish family and friends good fortune for the coming New Year as well as for baby girls in their first new year.

Every late December, the Hagoita-Ichi (Battledore Fair) is held at Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa, one of the most popular destinations in Tokyo.  Numerous hagoita in different sizes and designs are sold in dozens of market stalls there each year.