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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Minogame in Japanese Culture

Painting by Nagayama Koen (1765-1849) depicting Urashima Taro with a minogame. (Visipix.com)
Japan is a country that has many different traditions and legends of turtles. One of its most famous is the mythological giant turtle known as the minogame (蓑亀, or 'straw raincoat-turtle' due to the tail resembling a farmer's straw coat). The minogame is regarded as a very auspicious creature in Japanese culture and has made appearances in arts, crafts, and even in modern-day popular culture!

The minogame is said to live at least a thousand years (with some living up to 10,000 years!) and have a long, hairy tail, which is actually seaweed and algae that have grown on its shell due to its ripe old age! It has very similar to the real-life common tortoise, which can live for hundreds of years. In Japanese culture, the minogame represents longevity and wisdom, and is a long-revered symbol of both. In art, it is often shown with other gods and symbols of longevity, such as the crane, or Taoist deities such as Jurōjin. The minogame is also depicted with the Three Jewels, which represent fortune.

Unlike the minogame's highly-fictitious cousin Gamera, the minogame has its basis in real-life tortoises and turtles. In fact, other than the tail and its very long life span, it's almost indistinguishable from a regular tortoise! It has been said that tales of the minogame were created from ancient Japanese watching real-life turtles in their everyday environment. While swimming around in rivers, ponds, and the ocean, turtles tend to get seaweed stuck to their shells. Hence the minogame's "hairy" tail was born! Also, according to some sources, the minogame has its origins in attempts by artists to draw turtles with seaweed stuck to their shells.

The most famous minogame in Japan is that from the legend of Urashima Taro. In some versions of the legend, a minogame, rather than a regular tortoise, is said to have taken Urashima to the Palace of the Dragon God after having rescued the smaller turtle (which was actually the princess Otohime) from the children who were tormenting it.

Print by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) depicting a group of men inspecting a minogame. (Visipix.com)
The minogame has long been depicted by Japanese artists. Many have depicted Urashima Taro's famous undersea voyage, or have otherwise been inspired by it. Minogames have been the subject of sculptures, ukiyo-e prints, surimonos (color paintings), and all other kinds of art forms over the centuries, both past and present.

Just the same, Japanese artisans have made minogame crafts and toys for many centuries. Minogame dolls, candy molds, netsuke carvings, pottery and ceramics, katana (samurai swords), and other handicrafts or hand-made items have been popular in Japan for centuries. The minogame's connotations with longevity (and the fact that it's just plain cool!) make it a very popular motif on handicrafts!

In modern-day Japan, the minogame - or characters based on it - can be found in various anime and manga, tattoos, toys, and elsewhere. Of course, it can also be found where it has always been over the millinea: In the country's arts, crafts, and legends!

There are different mythological turtles in Japan, but the minogame is possibly the most interesting of them all!

For more about the minogame, be sure to also have a look at:
-http://theglyptodon.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/minogame/ (Blog entry from The Glyptodon about the Minogame.)
  

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