The Gyotai (魚袋)

A Gyotai (fish box) is an accessory used for Sokutai costume (traditional formal court dress).

It is hung from a Sekitai (a type of sash with stones), and said that it originally was a tally used in ancient China and became an ornament. In the early Tang Dynasty, the Gyotai is said to be a figure of a fish tied to a string of silk. In the age of Zetian Wuhou, the figure was changed to that of a turtle.
(There is an opinion that the fish and the turtle were selected for the Gyotai because pronunciation of the word turtle and Genbu (a God) and the word carp (fish) and the Imperial family name ("Yi") of the Tang Dynasty was phonetically the same.)
In the Tang Dynasty, Sanbon (the third rank of the court) or higher officers put on purple Buddhist priest stoles with goldfish-bag ornament and Gohin (the fifth rank of the court) or higher officers wore cardinal Buddhist priest stoles with silverfish-bag ornament according to their Ikai (court rank). Also, important officers such as local officials and military officers were granted to wear the Gyotai.
(Dressing in the purple clothes or cardinal clothes that did not correspond to the Ikai was called Karimurasaki [unauthorized purple clothes] and Kariake [unauthorized cardinal clothes] respectively.)
(Both of the clothes were accompanied by the goldfish- or silverfish-bag ornaments.)
(According to the "Hakushimonju" [the "Bai-Shi Wen Ji"] [a collection of poems by Hakkyoi, a famous Chinese poet], Bai Letian, who became a provincial governor, put on cardinal vestment and trousers with silverfish-bag ornament.)
(After he returned to a government post, he stopped wearing the Gyotai and dressed in green vestment.)
(The Gyotai is also called as "賜緋銀魚袋" [given cardinal, silver Gyotai] [the pronunciation of "賜" is the same as "借"]). The Gyotai was continued in the Song Dynasty, but it become obsolete on and after the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. After the middle Tang Dynasty, the Gyotai was used as an accessory also in China, and the shape seen in a picture around the Five Dynasties Period was almost the same as that of Japan. It is considered that the Gyotai took in the system of the Tang Dynasty in the early Heian period; however, since there was no dress code in the Yoro-ryo (Yoro Code), there is no document that clearly mentioned when the Gyotai was adopted.


The Gyotai was hung from lower right part of back (two or more Gyotai were not used at the same time). The original form is unknown. The current form is shark skin covered wooden padding (shape of the Hyoshigi [wooden clappers]) with four metal fishes and corrugated ornaments on the front side and a fish on the back side. It is attached to a ring-shaped leather string and hung on the Sekitai like a tag on a traveling bag. For an average-built, the position of the Gyotai will be about one or one and a half stones from the right of the Sekitai.

A Kugyo (high court noble) of the fourth court rank Sangi (councilor) or higher used the Gyotai with gold ornament and the Tenjobito (a high-ranking courtier allowed into the Imperial Palace) put on the Gyotai with silver ornament.

The original form of the Gyotai is said to be originated from a fish-like shaped tally (in Wei Dynasty [the Three States period], it was the shape of a turtle) and a leather bag specified in a statute of China. In Japan, it was used as an ornament. Therefore, it was used only by the Kugyo or officers of the fifth rank or higher attended the Sechi-e (seasonal court banquets) or in service at important ceremonies including an Imperial envoy of the Kamo Festival. Even when in the Sokutai costume, the Gyotai was not usually put on. In the early-modern times, the Gyotai is not used even in a ceremony of the enthronement: Only an Imperial envoy of the Kamo Festival uses the Gyotai.

[Original Japanese]