The Wooden Carp Fish

A Handicraft from the Joseon Dynasty

在日本,對工藝品有一個很特別的形容詞:「ヘタウマ」(音:Heta Uma),Heta是差勁的意思,Uma則指出色,拼在一起,就是說,看起來技術很差勁,卻是很出色的作品。每次瞥到家裡這兩尾魚時,便會想到這個形容詞。



There is a special Japanese adjective particularly used to describe handicraft. Written as ヘタウマ (pronunciation: heta-uma), the first part heta means bad, and the second part uma contradictorily means splendid. Putting the two words together, it means although the item is poorly made, it is, after all, a splendid piece of work. These two pieces of fish decorations I have at home always remind me of this adjective.

These two wooden carp fishes look pretty roughly made, mainly because of the unbalanced eyes and asymmetrical faces. However, a closer look would reveal the skilfully carved scales are actually of identical size, the slightly lifted tails also make the fish appear like they are swimming happily in a pond. The wooden carp fishes were made during the Joseon Dynasty. It was believed that people of the time used carp fishes as offerings to their god, but the fresh carp fish was rather costly to buy, so the average people came up with the idea of making carp fish with wood or paper to show their dedication to the god.

For some reason, I am always drawn by such type of handicrafts that are not made by any professional artisans. They are oftentimes a piece of work made by random people of a certain region that aimed at satisfying practical needs. When making an item of utility, the makers rarely demonstrate any desire for attaining artistic quality or personal style; all they show are the sincere wish for creating a better life. Craft items of this nature always possess an absolutely pure and simple essence of beauty.