Collectors of tsutsugaki textiles generally consider the rabbit to be one of the most desirable images to acquire. The rabbit motif is rich in meaning and allusion, and, aside from being adorable when rendered well by a tsutsugaki artisan, it also references a great deal of ancient Japanese lore.
The white rabbit has numerous auspicious and quasi-religious associations in Japanese tradition. It was thought to embody the spirit of the moon and in some early texts from the Heian Period (794-1185) the rabbit fit into myths with the tortoise and crane, and symbolized long life.
The Japanese look at the moon, and even today, the folklore is to see a rabbit pounding mochi, using a mortar and pestle, making glutenous rice. We in the West see a “man in the moon.”There is another myth concerning the rabbit and the ocean, that is very dramatic and complex and of which are several variations.The story, is eloquently and succintly told at the website, Myth Encyclopedia, and is captioned from that site, below:
“The Izumo Cycle. The Izumo Cycle of myths features the god Ôkuninushi, a descendant of Susano-ô. One of the most famous stories is about Ôkuninushi and the White Rabbit.
According to this tale, Ôkuninushi had 80 brothers, each of whom wanted to marry the same beautiful princess. On a journey to see the princess, the brothers came upon a rabbit with no fur in great pain at the side of the road. They told the animal that it could get its fur back by bathing in saltwater, but this only made the pain worse. A little while later, Ôkuninushi arrived and saw the suffering rabbit. When he asked what had happened, the rabbit told him how it had lost its fur.
According to Japanese myth, the goddess Amaterasu established the imperial family of Japan. She began by sending her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, to live on earth. Before Ninigi left heaven, the goddess gave him the mirror that drew her from the cave, as well as jewels and a sword belonging to the god Susano-ô. When Ninigi arrived on earth, he was accepted as the ruler of Japan, and the gifts he brought from Amaterasu became treasures of the imperial family. Ninigi married the goddess of Mount Fuji, who bore him three sons. One of the sons was the father of Jimmu Tenno, the first historical emperor of Japan. By tradition, the Japanese imperial family traces its ancestry to Jimmu Tenno.
One day while traveling between two islands, the rabbit persuaded some crocodiles to form a bridge so it could cross the water. In return the rabbit promised to count the crocodiles to see whether they were more numerous than the creatures of the sea. As the rabbit neared the far shore, the crocodiles realized that the promise was only a trick to get the rabbit across the water. Furious, the last crocodile seized the rabbit and tore off its skin.
After hearing this story, Ôkuninushi told the rabbit to bathe in clear water and then roll in some grass pollen on the ground. The rabbit followed this plan, and new white fur soon grew on its body. The rabbit, who was actually a god, rewarded Ôkuninushi by promising that he would marry the beautiful princess. Ôkuninushi’s success angered his brothers, and a number of other myths in the Izumo Cycle tell about the struggles between them.”
This beautiful indigo dyed cotton tstutsugaki panel is shown here in part: not shown is its upper half on which is rendered a resist dyed famly crest, the subject being stylized folding fans. The entire piece measures 83″ x 13″/211 cm x 33 cm and it dates to the late 19th century. This is a panel from a futon cover; the futon cover was reconfigured from a yogi, or sleeping kimono.