Feature for September, 1999


picture of feature

An Inro is a small, multi-tiered box that is hung from an Obi sashi along with Netsuke and Ojime (a device for tightening the obi sash). Although the literal translation of Inro is "box of stamps," an Inro is meant as a container for medicine. However, the Inro was worn as a fashion accessory by men, from its beginnings in the early 18th century.

A typical Inro is made from set of very delicate stacking wooden boxes. The wood is covered with urushi (lacquer) then decorated with gold, silver and copper leaf, embossed, and inlayed with shells. The decorative designs are very intricate, and no two are alike.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Tokugawa Shogun, many feudal lords, and aristorcrats commissioned lacquer artists to craft Inro as well as other lacquered goods. They rivaled each other in a competition for the most sophisticated and finest lacquer designs. Subseqently, the Inro came to symbolize a man's status. By the 19th century, successful merchants and affluent urbanites also began carrying expensive Inro, Nestuke, and Ojime to flaunt their wealth.

After the Meiji revolution in 1868, the Japanese peoples' interests were dominated by westernization, and Inro, Netsuke and Ojime along with other fine crafts became neglected. However, the Inro caught the eyes of foreigners as fine miniature art forms. As westerners patronized these goods, they were exported by the thousands. Nowadays, Japanese collectors are attempting to import Inro and Netsuke. Much to their dismay, many of the superior Inros and Nestukes are owned by collectors and museum throughout the United States and Europe.

All Inro shown here are from the 19th century.

Prices are quoted at the beginning of the feature month. We reserve the right to change prices at any time. Please note that we do not update this page to reflect availability of items. If you are interested in purchasing any items, please contact Harumi Antiques.

To see a larger image of each piece, click on the image (~100K).

picture in a new window 1) Three tier gold lacquer Inro
  • Signed by Shibayama. Design of a man and boy catching an eel under a cherry tree.
  • 4" x 3"
  • ¥ 1,800,000
picture in a new window 2) Back of item number 1.
picture in a new window 3) Six tier lacquer Inro
  • Unsigned. Mori-age (raised design) and gold makie. Senba-zuru (one thousand cranes) design.
  • 3½" x 2¼"
  • ¥ 540,000
picture in a new window 4) Four tier lacquer Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold and silver togi-dashi makie. Design of two herons in water among rushes on a roiro (black) background.
  • 3½" x 1-7/8"
  • ¥ 520,000
picture in a new window 5) Five tier lacquer Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold, iroe (colored lacquer) and mor-iage (raised design) with a rooster. The back side has a plum tree and paper moon design.
  • 3¾" x 2"
  • ¥ 460,000
picture in a new window 6) Four tier gold laquer Inro
  • Signed Kyoryu. Gold, silver and iroe takamakie. Design of a parrot on a camellia tree.
  • 3¾" x 2½"
  • ¥ 480,000
picture in a new window 7) Five tier gold Inro
  • Signed Kanya. Gold and silver takamakie.
  • 3-3/8" x 2"
  • ¥ 540,000
picture in a new window 8) Three tier lacquer Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold, silver and nashiji makie. Design of a dragon surrounded by numerous Chinese people. The reverse side depicts a continuation of the design on the front. The design portrays an old legend where people are learning courage and wisdom from a dragon.
  • 3 7/8" x 2¾"
  • ¥ 340,000
picture in a new window 9) Five tier lacquer Inro
  • Signed by Hirakawa with kao. Gold takamakie and kirigane. Design of a tiger with a rocky waterfall in the background.
  • 3½" x 2"
  • ¥ 420,000
picture in a new window 10) Five tier urushi guribori Inro
  • With matching guribori Netsuke and guribori Ojime.
  • 3-3/8" x 1-3/4"
  • ¥ 100,000
picture in a new window 11) Four tier lacquer saya (sack) Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold togidashi makie, kirigane, dusted with kimpun (gold powder), roiro background. Design of a pair of deer among fall foliage.
  • 3½"x 2-3/8"
  • ¥ 340,000
picture in a new window 12) Four tier gold Inro
  • Signed Kajikawa with kao. Gold takamakie. Peacock and peony design.
  • 3½" x 2-3/8"
  • ¥ 600,000
picture in a new window 13) Four tier gold Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold takamakie. Design of an old pine tree and shibuichi crane.
  • 3½" x 2¾"
  • ¥ 460,000
picture in a new window 14) Four tier lacquer Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold togidashi makie on roiro background. Design of Mt. Fuji with silver clouds. Small defect on top cover, right side.
  • 2-7/8" x 2½"
  • ¥ 180,000
picture in a new window 15) Four tier gold makie Inro
  • Unsigned. Gold takamakie. Design of Genroku beauty among fall foliage.
  • 2-7/8" x 2-3/8"
  • ¥ 420,000

Old features