What Is That Tipping Bamboo Water Spout In Traditional Gardens?

by Justin Sevakis,

Joseph asked:

What is that bamboo thing in anime that fills with water until full and then empties? I see it used a lot and it seems mostly used for transitioning to a new screen or delivering more emotion to an intense revelation by suddenly hitting the ground. Other than that, at least in anime, it seems to have no purpose.

We've all seen it in anime a million times, and heard its distinctive "THUNK" that happens at regular intervals. This primitive bamboo contraption is called a shishi-odoshi, and its original (and perhaps only physically useful) purpose was to scare away boars, deer, and any other wildlife that might come to munch on the plants of a well-cultivated garden. In other words, it's basically an audio scarecrow. In fact, "shishi-odoshi" means "scare deer."

How it works is immediately obvious to look at it: A bamboo stalk is held in place by a peg, hinging it between two other stalks or boards. Placed under running water, it slowly fills up, until it becomes top-heavy, at which point it tips over onto a rock, where it empties out. The weight of the water expelled, it tips back up again and refills. As it snaps back into place, it emits a loud "THUNK."

The shishi-odoshi was used most prominently by zen monks in their tea gardens. As a result, it became synonymous with a peaceful, well-cultivated garden, and the noise at regular intervals became a tool for meditation. Since most modern Japanese aren't concerned with scaring deer away, the shishi-odoshi is now appreciated as a repeller of bad thoughts, and as a relaxing and meditative accessory. Its trademark sound immediately conjures the image of a peaceful, well-manicured garden.

Today, you can find Shishi-odoshi at the entrance of most traditional Japanese tea gardens, and the water at the basin is drunk from upon entry, to spiritually cleanse yourself internally. But if you want one for your own garden, small ones are easy to find for sale online.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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