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  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Tsuchida Soetsu (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Black and gold lacquer inlaid with pearl-shell

  • Credit Line:

    Pfungst Gift

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Japan, room 45, case 8

  • Download image

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.
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 Tsuchida Soetsu (1660-1745?), aged 71. Soetsu was a follower of the versatile artist and craftsman, Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637). Koetsu pioneered a distinctive style of lacquerwork that made use of relatively straightforward techniques of black and gold lacquer, with inlays of shell and lead. His designs are usually in silhouette with little or no interior detail. This inro is decorated with tengu, mythical creatures that are part bird and part human. It is carried out in black and gold lacquer, with inlays of shell only.

Physical description

Inro depicting on one side two young tengu seated under a pine tree, on the other side a toy gun, bullets and box for ammunition . The Inro is black and gold lacquer inlaid with pearl-shell.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


18th century (made)


Tsuchida Soetsu (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Black and gold lacquer inlaid with pearl-shell


Height: 5.5 cm, Width: 5.2 cm, Depth: 2.3 cm

Descriptive line

Inro depicting tengu in black and gold lacquer inlaid with pearl-shell, signed Tsuchida Soetsu, aged 71, 18th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Julia Hutt, Japanese Inro, B&A Publications, 1997; plate 104


Lacquer; Shell


Containers; Accessories; Lacquerware

Collection code


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