Noshi (traditional Japanese gift ornament) (熨斗)
Noshi is an ornament attached to gifts and presents offered on festive occasions in Japan. It is a yellow piece of paper wrapped in a sheet of colored paper folded in a long hexagonal shape. Sometimes noshi marks are printed on gift envelopes as simplified forms of noshi. Noshi is often used in combination with colored paper strings (called mizuhiki in Japanese) used to tie a gift.
Officially, noshi is called noshi awabi (meaning flattened abalone in Japanese). In the old days, a piece of dried abalone was used as noshi instead of paper, which was also known as uchi awabi (beaten abalone).
The expression noshi awabi originally referred to thinly sliced pieces of abalone, which were half-dried until they took on an amber tint, then flattened with a bamboo stick to be washed in water and dried, and treated by repeating these processes many times.
Since the word 'noshi' (meaning "expanding" or "flattening" in Japanese) implies longevity, abalone was believed to be an auspicious food that prolonged life, and has been used as sacred food offered to Shinto gods since ancient times in Japan. There are descriptions of noshi awabi in "Hizen no Kuni Fudoki" (Topography of Hizen Province [present-day Nagasaki and Saga Prefectures], written in the late eighth century). In an excavation of the Heijo Palace Site in Nara, wooden strips were discovered which showed that an abalone about 1.5 m in length was sent as a gift from Awa Province (part of present-day Chiba Prefecture; records on tributes in the "Engishiki" [ancient compendium of laws published in the tenth century] show that Awa Province was well known as an abalone producing region at the time). Believed to bring good fortune in battles among warriors during the Japanese medieval period, abalone was used as gifts for soldiers at the time of war. It is recorded in "Azuma Kagami" (history book written around 1300, in the late Kamakura period) that MINAMOTO no Yoritomo received a long dried abalone (noshi awabi) as a tribute in 1191.
While it is forbidden to use fish in vegetarian cuisine served at Buddhist memorial services, noshi abalone is used as gifts for non-Buddhist celebrations as typical seafood to distinguish these celebrations from Buddhist ceremonies.
As sacred food for gods, noshi abalone was not only offered to Ise-jingu Shrine, but also attached to gifts as amulets that bring good luck. These noshi amulets were eventually simplified, and yellow pieces of paper came to be used as noshi instead of abalone.
Big rice cakes used to celebrate a new year in Japan are decorated with onoshi (great noshi) or tabane noshi (noshi bundles). Tabane noshi are used as ornaments for betrothal gifts.
Noshi abalone at Ise-jingu Shrine
At Ise-jingu Shrine, noshi abalone cooked by the traditional method is offered to gods at monthly festivals called Tsukinami-sai in June and December and at the annual festival known as Kanname-sai held in October. Noshi abalone is manufactured at the Ise-jingu Shrine Abalone Kitchen located in Kuzaki-cho of Toba City, Mie Prefecture. Noshi abalone is made every year during the period from June to August. Approximately 200 kg of abalone meat is used to make noshi abalone for one offering. Each abalone is thinly sliced as if to peel off its skin and then dried. During the noshi manufacturing season, abalone slices are hung like pieces of cloth from bars made with hinoki wood located outside the kitchen. A noshi abalone festival is held on the second Sunday of July every year. The festival is believed to have originated when a fisherwoman named Oben offered abalone as a gift to Yamatohime no mikoto, the fourth Imperial Princess of the eleventh Emperor Suinin, who visited Kuzaki.
Customs related to noshi
Noshi is not used for gifts offered in mourning ceremonies, including funerals.
Noshi is also not used for seafood gifts.