The Meiji period (1868–1912) witnessed the transition of Japan from an isolated nation to the harbinger of industrial globalization in Asia. In less than half a century, Japan’s economy blossomed with foreign technologies and investment, and, buffered by a military invigorated by decisive victories against Russia and China, the island nation quickly oriented itself as a prominent international player in Asian affairs.
The onslaught of industrialization and a reorganization of Japan’s government during the Meiji period was to have profound effects. One was that the traditional weapons market and its foundries could not compete with factories producing modern weapons. Scores of skilled craftsmen found themselves unemployed and gradually turned to other metalworking enterprises. This vase is a direct offshoot of that development.
The globular body of this vase is fashioned from a deep russet iron. Its center is decorated in low relief with two cranes bobbing among flowering plants. The designs have been executed using gold, silver, shakudo (gold and copper alloy), and shibuichi (silver and copper alloy), all materials traditionally employed in the manufacture of sword furniture. The tall, slender neck tapers out gracefully toward a flared rim lined with silver at its terminus. The low base is similarly lined with silver and is incised with the three-character inscription Isshin koku (carved by Isshin). A seal appliqué of silver is incised with a two-character inscription, Miyamoto, and with two European initials, V. M. These attributes help identify the vase as a piece by Isshin, a metalworker with the Miyamoto Company in Tokyo, who is known to have specialized in crafting decorative cranes.