Originally of Chinese origin, inro were used by Japanese businessmen to carry the seals used to sign their business affairs. Often made of interlocking cases as in the example shown here, inro were secured shut by the ojime, a small bead that slides down the cord to keep the cases shut.
Originally of Chinese origin, inro were used by Japanese businessmen to carry the seals used to sign their business affairs. Often made of interlocking cases as in the example shown here, inro were secured shut by the ojime, a small bead that slides down the cord to keep the cases shut.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

This beautiful inro is decorated with fireflies flying in front of a blind, depicted closed on one side of the inro, and partly open on the other.

Attributed to Koma Kyoryo (Sai)
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Neil B. Ivory

Maki-e lacquer on wood, ebony inlaid with mother of pearl, carnelian
7.3 x 6.7 x 1.9 cm
1983.Ee.3
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Fireflies were a typical decorative theme. Capturing fireflies was a popular pastime with the upper classes in Japan, which was often featured in Japanese literature and legends. One legend tells of a firefly princess who declared that she would not marry until a suitor bought her a flash of fire. The firefly prince was successful by bringing her himself -- his own body acting as the required flash of fire.
Fireflies were a typical decorative theme. Capturing fireflies was a popular pastime with the upper classes in Japan, which was often featured in Japanese literature and legends. One legend tells of a firefly princess who declared that she would not marry until a suitor bought her a flash of fire. The firefly prince was successful by bringing her himself -- his own body acting as the required flash of fire.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

This beautiful inro is decorated with fireflies flying in front of a blind, depicted closed on one side of the inro, and partly open on the other.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of Mrs. Geraldine Chisholm

Maki-e lacquer on wood
9.4 x 5.1 x 2.6 cm
1982.Ee.18
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Inro were hung from men’s obis, or sashes, and secured by the netsuke, which was hooked over the top of the sash, to prevent the inro from slipping. As men’s robes were pocketless, inro, along with money pouches, were hung from the waist to carry valuables. The custom of wearing inro continued to be popular until the introduction of Western clothing rendered them unnecessary.
Inro were hung from men’s obis, or sashes, and secured by the netsuke, which was hooked over the top of the sash, to prevent the inro from slipping. As men’s robes were pocketless, inro, along with money pouches, were hung from the waist to carry valuables. The custom of wearing inro continued to be popular until the introduction of Western clothing rendered them unnecessary.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

This black-ground inro is decorated with fish, which is one of the eight Buddhist symbols, representing the emancipation of the Buddhist mind.

Attributed to Nomura Chohei or his school
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Neil B. Ivory

Maki-e lacquer on wood, mother of pearl, sharkskin glass, silk, amber, metal fittings
7.9 x 7.8 x 2.6 cm
1983.Ee.5
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Netsuke functioned as the toggle that held the inro in place by preventing it from sliding out from under the sash of a man’s kimono. Often carved in precious materials, they portray the imagination of the artist who carved netsuke from a multitude of subjects, including legendary figures, animals, fruits, flowers, and vegetables, many of which also carried symbolic meaning. One legend featured was that of Oguri Hangan, the son of a famous family of shoguns. Oguri Hangna led an adventurous life, first crippled by his wicked stepmother and later miraculously cured by Terute Hime, whom he married. He was also famous as an accomplished horseman, and is thus frequently represented mounted on his horse Onikage. Another theme is the badger. In Japan, badgers are considered mischievous animals with supernatural powers and were the frequent subject of netsuke carvers. In the famous No drama, a female badger makes music by beating her distended belly like a drum.
Netsuke functioned as the toggle that held the inro in place by preventing it from sliding out from under the sash of a man’s kimono. Often carved in precious materials, they portray the imagination of the artist who carved netsuke from a multitude of subjects, including legendary figures, animals, fruits, flowers, and vegetables, many of which also carried symbolic meaning. One legend featured was that of Oguri Hangan, the son of a famous family of shoguns. Oguri Hangna led an adventurous life, first crippled by his wicked stepmother and later miraculously cured by Terute Hime, whom he married. He was also famous as an accomplished horseman, and is thus frequently represented mounted on his horse Onikage. Another theme is the badger. In Japan, badgers are considered mischievous animals with supernatural powers and were the frequent subject of netsuke carvers. In the famous No drama, a female badger makes music by beating her distended belly like a drum.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

The small ebony netsuke depicts a badger with a distended belly and its paw raised, referring to a famous No drama.

Attributed to Tomokazu
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Neil B. Ivory
Late 18th c. - Early 19th c.
Ivory
1983.Ee.12
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Japanese women did not wear jewellery with their traditional Japanese dress, the kimono, until the introduction of Western fashions in the late nineteenth century. Therefore, the hair combs and bodkins used to hold their elaborate hair-styles in place were extremely ornamental, often made of lavish materials like lacquer or ivory and adorned with gold designs.
Japanese women did not wear jewellery with their traditional Japanese dress, the kimono, until the introduction of Western fashions in the late nineteenth century. Therefore, the hair combs and bodkins used to hold their elaborate hair-styles in place were extremely ornamental, often made of lavish materials like lacquer or ivory and adorned with gold designs.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Group of combs and bodkins

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of F. Cleveland Morgan

Maki-e lacquer on ivory, maki-e lacquer on wood, maki-e lacquer on tortoise-shell ground
1949.Ee.3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 19
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe traditional inros and netsuke and their form and function
  • Describe the Western influences present during the Meiji period on personal accessories and compare the extent of these influences to other aspects of decorative arts
  • Appreciate the aesthetic qualities of Japanese artistry
  • Recognize, in words and pictures, elements of Japanese decorative arts
  • Relate Japanese decorative art themes and the decoration of personal accessories to those of their own culture

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