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Inro, ojime, netsuke

Inro, ojime, netsuke

  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1775-1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Inaba (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Black, gold and silver lacquer

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Japan, Room 45, The Toshiba Gallery, case 8

Inro is a container made up of tiers. From the late 16th century, Japanese men wore an inro suspended from their sash by a silk cord and a netsuke (toggle) because the traditional Japanese garment, the kimono, had no pockets. They were originally used to hold their owner's seal and ink or a supply of medicines. However, inro rapidly became costly fashion accessories of little or no practical use. Most inro are rectangular with gently curving sides.
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. This example is decorated with a map of Japan in togidashie (‘brought out by polishing’) lacquer. Inro decorated with a map of Japan often have certain details distorted to fit the overall shape of the inro. They had little practical use as maps, therefore, and may be considered as fashionable gimmicks of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Designs of this type are all the more remarkable considering their size, the detail of decoration and the technical skills required to realise them.
From the 1700s onwards, many artists signed the inro they made. This example is signed Inaba. This was the official name used by successive heads of the Koami family of lacquerers.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


ca. 1775-1850 (made)


Inaba (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Black, gold and silver lacquer


Height: 7.4 cm, Width: 7.2 cm, Depth: 1.9 cm

Descriptive line

Inro depicting a map of Japan in black, gold and silver lacquer, signed Inaba, ca. 1775 - 1850



Subjects depicted



Accessories; Containers; Lacquerware


East Asia Collection

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