Writing Box with Cherry Blossoms


Writing Box with Cherry Blossoms

lacquer work / Muromachi

Muromachi period, 15th–16th century

Lacquered wood with [maki-e]


This is a “writing box,” used to store inkstones, brushes, and other writing implements. A cherry blossom design covers the entire surface of the box’s lid, which opens to reveal a smaller box and an inkstone nested within. The smaller box is decorated with a cherry blossom bud design and likely once held writing implements such as brushes and ink. Above the inkstone is a water dropper used when making ink. This water dropper is shaped like a cherry blossom, and if you look closely, you will see that its little leaf is a waterspout. The inner surface of the lid also bears a design of cherry tree branches, meaning that this writing box is completely covered in cherry blossoms.

The cherry blossom design on the box’s lid was created by first applying slightly raised sections of lacquer in the shape of the motifs and then brushing the designs with more lacquer. The designs were then made by sprinkling fine gold powder onto the lacquer while it was still sticky. The flower petals were shaped out of thin sheets of tin and then pasted onto the surface of the lid. Strikingly, this design does not depict an entire cherry tree—it is a daring closeup of a single branch. Chinese paintings of broken-off tree branches were imported to Japan during the Muromachi period (1392–1573) and likely influenced this composition. This combination of an imported Chinese style with the uniquely Japanese motif of cherry blossoms adds to the intrigue of this writing box.

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