Published Jun 5 2013, by

Inro with samurai

Inrō are small boxes with interlocking compartments that, because traditional Japanese clothing has no pockets, were used to hold personal items. During the Meiji period (1868–1912), artists crafting inrō employed a wide variety of sizes, styles, and themes to achieve their often deeply layered compositions.

This rectangular inrō consists of four cases that are illustrated with samurai figures set in an empty landscape. On the obverse side, in a scene that spans all four cases, a lone samurai is depicted moving across a bridge that is illumi­nated by a sun or moon high above. Captured in midstep, his left leg is raised and his sandals are exposed under the billowing folds of his ornately patterned robes. The hilt of a sword extends from his right hip. On the reverse side (shown here) a similar samurai figure in full battle gear, including armor, helmet, and two swords, crouches in front of two stylized mountains. In an active martial stance, he aggressively holds a long spear above his head. An open fan floats next to him to occupy part of the empty space in this kinetic composition.

The decoration of this inrō includes the maki-e technique, in which metal powders are sprinkled onto wet lacquer; the nashiji technique, which results in a pear-skin texture for the ground; and the togidashi technique, in which layers of applied lacquer are polished away to reveal the design underneath. The spherical ivory ojime, or fastening bead, is carved with a quaint scene of an adult and a child and an inscription translating to “bright one.” On the oblong netsuke, or toggle, which is fashioned of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, is the depiction of a man blowing a conch shell trumpet that emerges from a larger conch shell. Securing the inrō, ojime, and netsuke is a tightly woven, multicolored silk cord that binds the entire composition together.