Portable Food Box
The Ainu people have inhabited a wide area including the island of Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, Hokkaidō, and the northern Tōhoku region of Japan’s main island since the 13th century. While the Ainu people in Japan and in neighboring countries such as China and Russia are deeply involved with each other, each region has also given rise to its own distinctive culture.
Shintoko, also called hokai, are rectangular or cylindrical containers with legs. The Ainu people obtained shintoko, as well as footed vessels, bowls, spouted vessels, and other lacquerware objects from the Japanese people of Japan’s main island as trade goods or as payment for labor. The Ainu people treasured these objects and ordinarily placed them in inner sacred spots on the east sides of their homes as symbols of prosperity. In Ainu society, families with many lacquerware objects were considered to excel in hunting and trading and to be well respected. The number of shintoko a family possessed was a particularly good indicator of their status.
Lacquerware objects were also used at times in worship, including important rituals such as the sacrifice of bears, who had brought about food and other blessings, or memorial services for ancestors. In such rituals, alcohol fermented inside shintoko was offered to deities, and guests were entertained with this alcohol. Some of the Ainu genre paintings depicted by the 19th-century painter Hirasawa Byōzan and the 18th-and-19th-century painter Kakizaki Hakyō feature the use of shintoko in Ainu rituals.