What a fine box! (01) What was it used for?
It was used for carrying letters. Rich people gave their servants the box with a letter inside, and the servant took it to the home of the person it was sent to, and waited for an answer. And how did they write these letters? With brushes, because the Japanese did not have letters like ours. They have three kinds of writing: two kinds using marks that correspond to syllables, and the third consists of ideograms, kanji, which look like drawings. This system was imported from China a long, long time ago. There exist more than fifty thousand ideograms and at school you have to learn them off by heart!
An ideogram has one part that is easy to recognise, it is called a radical (and there are "only" two hundred and fourteen of them!); and then there are other elements. Just think, each radical can also be pronounced in three different ways. Japanese really is difficult!
And then they write from top to bottom but from right to left. So books are read in the opposite way to ours!
In a country where handwriting is an art, all the objects used for writing are precious. For example, this is a suzuribako (06), a box for holding all the necessary things for writing: ink, a stone for preparing it, brushes, and an awl.
This other one is a large box for paper (16).
Writing was done at a very low table, like the one you can seen here (17)!
All the objects needed for writing were placed in a zushidana, a special piece of furniture. Then there was another one, a shodana, for leaning paintings and books against.
Is this a shodana? Oh no it's not: this is a kurodana (18), and it was used for making people look more presentable. In it people put everything for dying their teeth. This was very fashionable: for Japanese women it was so beautiful to have white skin and black teeth! In this kurodana we can see the crest of the family which owned it: two sparrows in a bamboo ring is the crest of the Datē family (19).
These three pieces of furniture were always part of the wedding dowry of rich daughters of lords. But there were not just these; there were also many objects for private use, belonging to the home or the owner: small furniture, beauty cases, mirrors, comb cases, games such as go or kai awase, incense burners, boxes for paper, letters, and writing. We do not know the exact number of really important pieces for a dowry, but there were really many objects, even some tens of them...
What are these things? Bags?
They had perfect locks which is why they kept the herbs in excellent condition. Actually, these objects were first made in China where they were used for holding seals and ink. In time they became very fashionable in Japan and they were worn even when empty, as ornaments. They were tied to the belt with their thin cords held together by a sphere, called an ojime. This one is made from coral because they thought that coral broke when it was near to poisonous herbs. The inrōs are also signed because they were small works of art.
On this inrō is a deer (22). In Japan a deer was considered a symbol for autumn and was represented with one of the seven autumn herbs. The Nara deer were also sacred: the god of the Kashima sanctuary had been sent to Nara riding on a white deer, and since then all deer were considered messengers from the gods. In the past, anyone who killed a Nara deer could be put to death.
What's this hen (23) doing here?
In Japan this is also considered a positive symbol: with its rooster (29) and chicks it is a symbol of marital fidelity and family harmony.
What a beautiful family. And then in Japan roosters are also symbols of courage and light. The rooster on the drum, instead, is a symbol of peace because in periods of peace drums of war are not beaten!