Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Writing Box with Cranes, Pines, Plum Blossoms, and Characters

Edo period (1615–1868)
18th century
Lacquered wood with gold and silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, togidashimaki-e, and silver inlay on nashiji ground
H. 1 7/8 in. (4.8 cm); W. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm); D. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
Auspicious motifs such as cranes, pine trees, and plum blossoms, together with three silver-inlaid characters, appear on the lid of this writing box. Two of the cranes are executed in silver foil. On the inside of the lid, plovers fly over a rocky shore lined with pine trees. The landscape is lit by a silver moon, and the dry patches of the seashore are also inlaid in silver. The front of the lid might be a reference to a poem (chōka) by Yamabe no Akahito (active 8th century):

Waka no ura ni
shiomichi kureba
kata o nami
ashibe o sashite
tazu naki-wataru

At Waka Bay
the tide flows in,
covering the sandbars,
as cranes fly toward
a bed of reeds, crying.

—Trans. John T. Carpenter

On the inside is an anonymous poem from the Kokinwakashū anthology. The plover’s chirp is said to sound like “chiyo,” as contained in the phrase “eight thousand years” (ya-chiyo):

Shio no yama
sashide no iso ni
sumu chidori
kimi ga miyo oba
yachiyo to zo naku

Plovers that dwell
on the beach of Sashide,
nearby Mount Shio,
chirp “ya-chiyo,” wishing
the emperor a long reign.

—Trans. John T. Carpenter
Signature: Signed: Masatsune (on inside of case)
Benjamin Altman , New York (until d. 1913; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japanese Textiles," 1991.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Resonant Image: Tradition in Japanese Art (Part Two)," April 27, 1998–September 27, 1998.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Paintings from the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection," October 1, 2002–March 2, 2003.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Tribute to a Dedicated Collector: Mary Griggs Burke," June 30, 2004–November 29, 2004.

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