Inro, netsuke and ojime
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W.231:1 to 3-1922
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The inro is a container made up of tiers. Japanese men used them because the traditional Japanese garment, the kimono, had no pockets. From the late 1500s onwards, Japanese men wore the inro suspended from their sash by a silk cord and a netsuke (toggle). They originally used it to hold their seal and ink or a supply of medicines. However, it rapidly became a costly fashion accessory of little or no practical use. Most inro are rectangular with gently curving sides. This example is decorated with a pagoda and cryptomeria trees under a moon in multi-colour togidashie (brought out by polishing) lacquer.
Lacquer was most commonly used in the manufacture of inro since it was highly suitable for storing medicines. Lacquer is the sap from the tree Rhus verniciflua that grows mainly in East Asia. After processing, it is applied in many thin layers to a base material. The craft of lacquering, as well as making inro bodies, is highly complex, time-consuming and expensive.
From the 1700s onwards, many artists signed the inro they made. This example is signed Koma Yasumasa. The Koma was one of the great families of lacquer artists who specialised in making and decorating inro.
Place of Origin
Inro depicting a pagoda and cryptomeria trees, black, gold, silver and red lacquer with silver foil, signed Koma Yasumasa, ca. 1750-1850, with netsuke and ojime of 1775-1850
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Julia Hutt, Japanese Inro, V&A Publications, 1997; frontispiece
Containers; Lacquerware; Accessories
East Asia Collection