The 8th century document Kojiki tells of a Hare of Inaba which tricked some sharks into being used as stepping stones across the sea. Affronted, the sharks tore off his coat leaving him in agony until the deity Okuninushi-no-Mikoto helped him by advising him to bathe in fresh water. The hare was then revealed as a deity himself, and as such is enshrined in the 'Hakuto-Jinja' [white hare shrine] in Izumo province. The 10th century document Engi Shiki Shozui tells us that the white hare is the spirit of the moon, and that he lives for a thousand ages, while popular folklore tells of the hare who made his way using stepping stones to the moon, where he may still be seen pounding rice to make mochi. A connection between the moon and the hare is found elsewhere in Asia where the hare is one of the twelve animals of the zodiac, and an ancient Chinese saying tells 'In the Sun a golden bird, in the Moon a jewel hare'. Hares became popular among the samurai class during the Momoyama period, and were a favourite subject for screen paintings. Helmets of the time are found modelled in the shape of a hare's head, sometimes quite realistic and sometimes stylized. Momoyama period clan mon [badges] also have hares as the theme, some showing a hare encircled by waves against the moon.
This appealing bronze koro [incense burner] was made at the time when the warring daimyo vied with each other for an opulent lifestyle, building great castles decorated with gorgeous folding screens painted on gold leaf (see Lot 23). The Tea Ceremony was widely practised by the daimyo sometimes on a lavish scale with many guests, and sometimes quietly in the tradition of Sen-no-Rikyu. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) himself was an adherent of the Tea Ceremony, and even had a folding portable Tea House carried with him on his campaigns. It is tempting to imagine this koro having been commissioned by a daimyo whose banner carried the device of a hare, using it as an essential part of his Tea Ceremony.