Inro, netsuke and ojime
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W.110:1 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.
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 ship and stormy sea in gold and black hiramakie (‘low sprinkled picture’) and takamakie (‘high sprinkled picture’) lacquer. Makie is the most characteristic of Japanese lacquer techniques. It is a generic term for a number of related techniques. They all make use of gold, silver or coloured powders that are sprinkled on to wet lacquer before it hardens.
Although this is an early inro from the 1600s, the design is already quite sophisticated. For example, it makes good use of the small size and links both main sides through elements of the design, such as birds flying across. Due to its age, it also shows considerable rubbing to the surface.
Place of Origin
Inro, netsuke and ojime, the inro depicting a ship in stormy seas in gold and black hiramakie and takamakie on a gold lacquer ground, inlaid with pearl-shell, made in Japan, 17th and early 18th century
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Julia Hutt, Japanese Inro, V&A Publications, 199s; plate 120
Accessories; Containers; Lacquerware
East Asia Collection