Writing Box (suzuribako) with Waterfall and Auspicious Characters

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: late 18th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Lacquered wood with gold and silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, togidashimaki-e, and gold inlay on nashiji ground

Dimensions: H. 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm); W. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm); D. 10 3/8 in. (26.4 cm)

Classification: Lacquer

Credit Line: Bequest of Stephen Whitney Phoenix, 1881

Accession Number: 81.1.173


The writing box (suzuri-bako) contains an inkstone, a water dropper in the shape of cherry blossoms, and a brush. The design on the front of the lid is dominated by a rapid waterfall; the stream descends through a range of mountains and rocks surrounded by pine trees and bamboo grass. The river is depicted in gold and silver maki-e that has been burnished down until it is completely flat, a technique called togidashi. Fine lines express the fast-flowing water. At the bottom of the waterfall, bubbly waves are executed in silver and are further enhanced with silver-inlaid roundels to express water drops. There are seven gold-inlaid characters that might refer to a poem or express auspicious notions, such as “turtle” or “thousand years.” Inside the lid the waterfall design is repeated without the characters. The design might refer to the picturesque Miyano-taki falls near Yoshino (Nara Prefecture), a waterfall that has significance in Japanese literature.