Does A Botamochi Fallen Down From The Shelf To Your Mouth Make You Happy?

Having studied a lot on a Japanese traditional sweet called O-Hagi or Botamochi to write the article for our site, 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo, I realized the strong connection that lied between sensibility of people and sweets.

The Japanese have loved or have been addicted to sugar since we knew its sweet taste which is almost sensuous. In 17th century the Edo government, I mean Tokugawa Shogunate, bought sugar from other countries and as we didn’t have our own production. Instead of sugar we had gold and silver as natural resources. We spent almost all of them that we had in order to buy sugar. I guess the people in Edo government thought that the mineral resources would have been infinite and would have never been exhausted… But they knew that it had been a wrong idea quite soon, after hundred years or so.

If you want to know more about the history of sugar in Japan, I would like you to read our previous article in 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo, “Matsuzakaya”


I listed up eight possible differences that I found between O-Hagi and Botamochi in 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo. I knew that the O-Hagi and Botamochi were the same things and only the names differ. I thought it was just own preference of people which word to use. For example, in our family, a typical Edo native family, we used only O-Hagi. So, the case of our family corresponds to the theory No.2.

(Again I recommend you to read first the article on 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo, “What is O-Higan?”.

Moreover, I thought, which is a carbon copy of what my grandmother used to say, the word O-Hagi sounds more elegant and stylish than Botamochi. (This may correspond to the theory No. 5 and 6.) But it seems that the name, Botamochi is older and more popular than O-Hagi.


"Ohagi Botamochi"  Photo by Tomomarusan - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
“Ohagi Botamochi”
Photo by Tomomarusan – Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5
via Wikimedia Commons


I learned Botamochi has been made and eaten since such a long time ago. In Uji Shūi Monogatari, a collection of 197 Japanese tales written around the beginning of the 13th century, there is an article where it was described with another name ‘Kai-mochi’.


A long time ago, there was a boy in Enryaku-ji temple of Mt. Hiei. (He was a son of samurai or aristocrat. He was from a good family anyway and stayed in the temple for study.) One night, having nothing special to do, the priests said “Why don’t we make Botamochi (Kai-mochi) or something?” The boy happened to hear it and was very excited. He thought it was not a good idea for him to wait for the Botamochi without going to bed, and he laid down on the floor at the corner of a room pretending to be sleeping. Then he noticed that the priests were making a fuss and he imagined that they had finished making Botamochi. He waited to be called for Botamochi remained lying on the floor. A priest came to him and said, “Please wake up.” The boy was so happy in mind but he did not replied him back because he thought it was not a good idea for him to react at the first call. If he had reacted too quickly, it would have been too evident that he was longing for the Botamochi. So, he waited for the second call restraining himself and continued to pretend to be sleeping. Then he heard another priest saying, “Don’t wake up a small boy. He has fallen asleep.” He thought with his eyes still closed, “What a terrible thing he is saying! Please do wake me up again!!” Some time later he heard the munching noise that the priests were making. He couldn’t stand it any more, and said “Yes”. All the priests burst into laughter at his reply after the long silence.

From Uji Shūi Monogatari
-A Feigned Sleep Of A Boy-
Translation by Rei Saionji


This time I translated the article by myself but there is a great translation in English.

“A Collection of tales from Uji: a study and translation of “Uji shüi monogatari. University of Cambridge Oriental Publications
By Douglas Edgar Mills

I really recommend to read this for those who are interested in Japanese culture. You will learn many things that could be the origins of things we have in modern Japan.



"Brooklyn Museum - The Dog of Mido Kanapaku (Mido Kanapuko Dono no Inu) from A Collection of Tales from Uji - Yashima Gakutei" by Yashima Gakutei - Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 43.236.2_IMLS_PS4.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Brooklyn Museum – The Dog of Mido Kanapaku (Mido Kanapuko Dono no Inu) from A Collection of Tales from Uji – Yashima Gakutei” by Yashima Gakutei –
Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum;
Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 43.236.2_IMLS_PS4.jpg.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


Botamochi seems to have already been one of normal deserts that kids were happy with in the beginning of the 13th century, when there was not sugar in Japan yet. The Botamochi of the past was not sweet. In fact, I learned by a book “Ryori-shokuzai Dai-jiten (Encyclopedia of the ingredients for cooking) published by Shufunotomo-sha that the salt was added to Anko instead of sugar. This great book is written only in Japanese and how I wish to receive an offer to translate it into English!!



In fact, for Botamochi that a nun gave to the monk, Nichiren, while he was brought to the execution in 1271 was not covered with Anko but with sesame.

(Are you sure that you have not yet read the article, “What is O-Higan?” in 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo? Don’t be like the boy in Enryaku-ji temple!)


Tanakara Botamochi T-shirt that I found on internet. Cool, huh?
Tanakara Botamochi T-shirt of Ichiban-print.com that I found on internet.
Cool, huh?


There is a proverb referring to Botamochi. It says, “Tana kara Botamochi.”, literally meaning “Botamochi falls down from a shelf.” The significance of this proverb is “to have an unexpected luck.”

I looked through the information when this proverb was created and by who. But I had no luck. If you know anything, please let me eat your Botamochi that you are keeping in your shelf.

Anyway, now we know again that Botamochi has a very positive meaning toward Japanese people, even though I have no idea if this Botamochi fallen from the shelf contained sugar or not. I knew, on the other hand, a grilled quail falls down from the heaven in France and in UK a penny… I must continue the research on what falls down for an unexpected luck in other countries all over the world!

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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