Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Suzuribako, or writing box, with cherry trees on a river bank

  • Description

    This lacquer writing box (suzuribako) is part of a writing set made by the Kyoto artist Tomita Kōshichi towards the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912). The boxes use a wide variety of lacquer techniques to achieve a range of textures. They are also stylistically very interesting as the landscape designs, with their spatial complexity and misty atmosphere, are highly reminiscent of the Nihonga style of painting that developed in the late 19th century, when Japan was emerging from over two centuries of national isolation.

    Nihonga (literally ‘Japanese painting’) aimed to preserve Eastern traditions while exploring the potential of artistic conventions and painting methods learnt from the West. On the one hand, the subject matter of the boxes is highly traditional and full of Eastern symbolism: the seasons, representing the cycle of life and conveying the Buddhist sentiment of the transience of all things, have long been a favourite subject of Japanese art. Stylistically, the depiction of the rocks and waterfall recall Kano School ink painting, learned from Chinese Song and Yuan painting. On the other hand, the boxes have borrowed their sense of receding space and their depiction of atmospheric conditions from Western stylistic sources.

    Tomita won several awards at national and international exhibitions in the 1890s, and in 1901 he became a lecturer in the lacquer department of the Kyoto Art School. However, he died young and there are relatively few remaining works by him, of which this is one of the finest.

  • Details

    Associated place
    AsiaJapanHonshūKantōTōkyō prefecture Tōkyō (place of creation)
    c. 1900
    Tomita Kōshichi (1854 - 1910)
    Material and technique
    lacquer box, with maki-e lacquer decoration in gold and silver; silver mounts; shakudō and soft metal water-dropper
    22.5 x 24.7 x 5.5 cm (height x width x depth)
    Material index
    organicvegetalresin lacquer,
    Technique index
    Object type index
    No. of items
    Credit line
    Purchased with the assistance of the MLA/ V&A Fund, the Art Fund, and the Elias Ashmole Group, 2007.
    Accession no.

Glossary (3)

lacquer, maki-e, shakudō

  • lacquer

    Chinese and Japanese lacquer is made from the sap of the lacquer tree, which is indigenous to Eastern China. It is applied to wood as a varnish or for decorative effect. In India and the Middle East, lacquer is made from the deposit of the lac insect.

  • maki-e

    (‘sprinkled design’) generic term for lacquer decoration using powdered metals sprinkled onto wet lacquer to create a design

  • shakudō

    alloy of copper and gold, patinated to a dark blue-black colour


    • currently in research collection

Objects are sometimes moved to a different location. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis. Contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular object on display, or would like to arrange an appointment to see an object in our reserve collections.


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