No, this is not a picture of Imari porcelain. Fish, however, do play a significant role in the story told to me by another foreign resident after she read about the tour at the Toguri Museum of Art. The story was so good that I asked her permission to share it. To prevent her from getting into any trouble or to prevent any reporters hunting down the family, I am purposefully not including any personal names.
During WWII, the family of shopkeepers received a call to say that a representative of the government at that time would pay them a visit to see what they had stored in their warehouses. Even in times of peace but especially in times of war, people often expect the worst from government inspectors and suspect that they will have to pay somebody for something. WWII was hard on everybody, and they knew that whatever stock and anything else of value they had would probably be confiscated. It might be resold or an antique plate might be used as dinnerware in a mess tent or given to refugees to eat ramen from. The quality and the value of the items would have had no bearing on the matter. They could not bear the thought of their collection of antique pottery being split up. “In the dead of the night,” the family dug a big hole and buried as much of their Koi Imari (porcelain ware with paintings of carp) as they could, which was not very much. You can imagine how quickly it had to be done as they looked over their shoulders keeping an eye out for anybody who would turn them in. Small towns are notoriously aware of each inhabitant’s actions. She said, “The rest was allocated and passed out piece by piece during the war. After the war, they had no stock for a while. “The treasure stayed buried for a long, long time. Now the remaining few are brought out for display every year for the local festival.
The fact that the pottery was painted with koi (carp) adds an extra element of symbolism to the story. In Japan, carp are symbols of perseverance against adversity and often seen in koi-no-bori flags on Children’s Day. Chinese legends mention several carp trying their best to swim upstream against the current. If they manage to pass through the gates, they will turn into dragons. Dragons in Asia are not the fire-breathing creatures of destruction known in the West; Asian dragons are creatures of mist and water that bring the much wanted rain to the fields. Those scales on a dragon’s body are the same scales on the carp. Just like the carp, the family persevered through hardship during and after the war. The treasured porcelain is a testament to their struggles and how far they have come.
Wartime stories are not commonly shared here in Japan. Many people still have bad feelings or memories about it here and in other Asian countries. You never know how others might react. I just want to say thank you to my friend and her family for sharing that story.