Beautifully carved cross-piece (yokogi) for a traditional Japanese kettle hook. Such items were used for a special construction, called jizaikagi, for hanging a kettle over open fireplaces (irori) in traditional Japanese houses. The counterbalance had the function to adjust the position of the hook over the fire and was usually carved in shape of a fish - may it either a koi carp or, like in this case, a sea bream with its typical high body and sharpened fins.
The sea bream or red snapper (tai) is an expensive and popular fish in Japanese cuisine. Its name is pronounced the same as the last syllable of the word medetai, which means “happy”, “propitious” or “auspicious.” For that reason, the sea bream became one of the lucky symbols in Japan.
Usually made by carpenters, the yokogi shown here is of unusual fine quality and made with great artistic skills. The shape of the bream is naturally resembled by a master sculptor, who also spend much attention to carve out the distinct fins of the animal. The fish is made of a single block of heavy zelkova wood, which is known for its good resistance to the extreme changes of temperature and humidity over open fireplaces. Nevertheless, the surface shows traces of its extreme environment in form of a fine net of cracks that cross the whole object without any effect of weakening it.
It is an extraordinary impression of a patina, that only occurs within ages of usage. This piece's natural beauty embodies the concept of Japanese aesthetic, that crystallizes within the notion of sabi. Originally part of the word pair wabi-sabi, sabi describes the attraction of objects that only came through age and natural use.