Step 4 of 6
Drinking for Longevity
A bottle is included in each picnic set, and was to be filled with a favourite drink for picnics: rice wine (sake). The sake bottle we see here is shaped with a spherical bottom half and a hexagonal top half, and topped by a metallic lid. The decoration of the top half alternates between a nashiji maki-e style and a geometric pattern.The presence of these two styles creates a sense of uniformity with the other components of the set, which show the same decoration, such as the outer frame and the food compartments.
Moreover, the bottom half of the bottle shows a decoration of chrysanthemums and flowing water, a combination known in Japanese as kikusui (菊水). Chrysanthemums are a decorative motif beloved by the Japanese, just like the flower itself. The chrysanthemum flower is tied to the autumnal season due to the period in which it blooms, and is also tied to the ideas of health and longevity.
This relation to longevity is due to a Chinese legend: it was said that the Zhou Dynasty Emperor Muwang (周穆王) had a loyal attendant boy named Kikujidō (菊慈童), who one day committed the mistake of tripping over one of the Emperor’s pillows. As a punishment, Kikujido was exiled to the remote Land of Chrysanthemums, but once there, defeating all expectations, Kikujidō did not suffer or starve. In fact, he was drinking the morning dew from the petals of chrysanthemums, which made him thrive and gave to him eternal youth. The Japanese and Chinese tradition of drinking rice wine infused with chrysanthemum petals as a way to seek longevity during festivals which take place in autumn, is tied to this legend.[Cf]
The ideas of longevity and immortality are both present on this bottle: in fact, the flask reminds us of the shape of a double gourd, with a larger, spherical bottom half, and slimmer top half. The double gourd is a traditional Chinese symbol for good health, and is believed to be connected to immortality.
What’s more, a gourd letting itself flow into water was also the protagonist of the definition of ukiyo that we encountered in the first marker of this story. Could the shape of this bottle hint to that concept?
All in all, the decoration found on this bottle, and the shape itself, are undeniably connected to both autumn and the celebration of life: we can imagine it being used by cheerful picnic goers on a crisp autumn day while enjoying views of chrysanthemums flowers and perhaps sipping on chrysanthemum infused sake.