Writing Box with Warbler in Plum Tree

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: 18th century

Culture: Japan

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

Dimensions: H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm); W. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm); L. 10 1/4 in. ( 26 cm)

Classification: Lacquer

Credit Line: H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929

Accession Number: 29.100.695a–e


The writing box contains only a water dropper. The lid is embellished with a flowering plum tree and a warbler singing among the branches. The first song of the warbler is the harbinger of spring and, as an auspicious motif symbolizing a new beginning, is often featured in classical literature. (It is the main theme of chapter 23 of The Tale of Genji, centered on an exchange of New Year’s greetings.) The inside of the box is decorated with a frog among fallen plum blossoms and four characters that refer to the murmur of the river (see ill.). The frog is also associated with spring. In the kana preface of the Kokin wakashū by Ki no Tsurayuki, there is an often cited sentence: “The song of the warbler among the blossoms, the voice of the frog dwelling in the water—these teach us that every living creature sings.”