September 17, 2015

A hachimaki (鉢巻, “helmet-scarf”) is a Japanese cotton headband or bandana, usually made of red or white cloth, worn as a symbol of perseverance or courage. These scarves are worn on many occasions, during sports and festivals, and by laborers, farmers and tradespeople, and can be decorated with writing, symbols or even pictures, depending on the wearer and the occasion. The origins of these headscarves are unclear but they may derive from the scarves worn by religious ascetics. More likely, they come from the headscarves samurai warriors wore to hold their helmets firmly in place, absorb perspiration and keep hair out of their eyes when in battle.

In a bag in my closet in which I keep an assortment of textiles I’ve collected over the decades, I had 6 hachimaki, none of which I have ever worn, not surprisingly. They are all from Hita, the city where I lived for a couple of years after I graduated from college. Each summer in Hita, a lively festival called the Gion Matsuri took place on the hottest weekend in July. Men wearing shorts and white happi kimono jackets, spent most of a weekend heaving heavy festival floats around the narrow streets, sweating profusely and drinking sake to keep their spirits and energy up. Most of them tied these hachimaki around their foreheads to stop the sweat from pouring into their eyes as they pulled hard on the straw ropes attached to the floats. These scarves were usually printed with artwork designed by local artists, the words of a song relating to the city or festival and the names of festival sponsors.

Today, one of our son Theo’s friends, Louis came over for a quick playdate after school. Louis and Theo have only recently become friends, but he’s a child I have found interesting since I first met him. Like Theo, he has a quirky, funny personality and seems to march to the beat of his own drum. He dressed as a Somali pirate one year for Halloween, performed an escape artist act as “Harry Loudini” at the school talent show, and is into origami, karate, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo graphic novels, among many other things. Today, the two boys were connecting wildly over karate, Parkour and their love of Youtube videos. They came up to me and begged me for some eggs so they could make a video of them cracking eggs over each other’s heads. His mum (she’s a Brit too) gave the ok, so I let them have fun with the eggs while I videoed them. Before Louis left, I asked him if he knew what a hachimaki was. Of course he did. So I gave the boys a choice of one hachimaki each. I have a vision of the boys as hachimaki Parkour warriors, bouncing off benches and jumping over fences wearing these cool Japanese headbands and laughing their heads off enjoying their endless energy.

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