⟨ Craft ⟩

The Scenery of Summer

The Spherical Fish Tank

Words and Photography / Ron Lam
Translation / Iris Heung

陽光灑下來時,它便映出了波光粼粼。太陽西移時,波光便飄動如流水。這個球形的金魚缸,日本喚作金魚玉,「玉」其實不過就是球形的意思,但從漢字看來,金魚玉三個字,特別雅致。

金魚玉源自江戶時代,那時吹起了金魚潮,金魚被視為民間的閒情風雅。賣金魚的挑著擔挑,兩頭的水桶盛著金魚,四處叫賣。客人來了,那時沒有塑膠袋,交出金魚時,就是用這種金魚玉作為容器。客人提著金魚玉回家,如同風鈴般將金魚掛在窗前,又或如裝飾品般設在壁櫥上,只是金魚在小小的金魚玉裡不能久活,得趕及牠們仍活躍時將之送進魚缸裡。而留下的金魚玉,大多都會被扔掉。

金魚玉如此美麗,落得如此下場,今天看來挺匪夷所思,但當年,它本來就被視為是消耗品,因此特別單薄,特別粗糙,開口的玻璃邊緣參差不齊,一不小心,就會給割傷。因為造工廉價,那時便被不珍惜了。

一般的金魚玉通常只有手心大小,這個直徑卻足有二十公分,究竟當時放著甚麼魚兒如此奢侈,得奉上如此寬敞的居所?

The fish tank appears to be glistening under the golden sun, when the sun is setting, the reflected lights radiate like ripples. The Japanese call this spherical fish tank 金魚玉 (Kingyo Tama), which can be translated as “the jade of goldfish”. The name contains poetic quality of its own although the word  (Tama) simply means a sphere in this context.

The history of the spherical fish tank can be traced back to the Edo period when goldfish was a popular trend that was seen as chic and elegant. The goldfish seller would walk around with a shoulder pole, carrying two buckets of water with goldfish swimming inside. That was the time before plastic bag was invented, therefore a spherical fish tank, or, the jade of goldfish was used as a container when a goldfish was sold. After bringing it home, people would hang the jade of goldfish in front of the window like a wind chime or put it on the shelf as a decoration. However, the jade of goldfish is too small for the goldfish, so after a while, they would transfer the goldfish to a proper fish tank before it dies. The empty jade of goldfish then naturally got thrown away.

A beautiful jade of goldfish does not deserve such a sad life. We might find it hard to believe that this lovely small sphere was once a non-reusable good, but back then it was so poorly made — not only was it thin and rough, the rim was not at all polished that it could easily cut the fingers. Looking at its poor quality, it became understandable that they got thrown away so easily.

The usual jade of goldfish is around palm-size, this one, however, has a diameter of 20 centimeters. I wonder what kind of prestigious fish was given such a spacious area to live?