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About Inro

[Japanese bush clover] At the end of the Edo period
[ Hagi Flowers ]
Gold Maki-e, Mother-of-pearl inlay
End of the Edo period
An Inro was a case for holding medicines.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), an Inro was carried by hanging from the obi, or sash.

The "In" of the Inro means seal or vermilion ink-pad in Japanese language.
And, the "Ro" of the Inro means small case.
So, the Inro primitively meant decorated box for stowing seals or ink-pads until the Middle Ages of Japan.
That kind of box was set on the Chigaidana shelf for decorating a room.

When it moved into the Sengoku era (=The Age of Civil Wars, 1467-1603), Samurai knights going to battlefields needed to carry small boxes with several kinds of medicines stowed in.
At that time, the original form of what we, comtemporary human call "Inro" appeared.
Because it was a medicine case, they should have called it "Yakuro".
("Yaku" means medicine in Japanese.)
Though, they commonly called it "Inro".

After entering the Edo period (1603-1868), the styles of Inro diversified.
We can find Inro in square, rectangular, round, oval, rhombic, Hagoita, Nurigasa and other shapes.
The materials of Inro are various such as japan ware (=lacquer ware), bamboo and woods, metals, earthen ware, osteal materials.
We can find especially artistic ones from Inro using japan ware, made in the Maki-e or Raden (=mother-of-pearl inlay) method.
Now, its artistic quality is well known all over the world.

In the Edo period, such decorative Inro were for beautiful people such as daimyo families or high-ranked Samurai.
On the other hand, merchants and others began to carry medicines stowed in Inro on journeys.
Merchant class attached Netsuke to Inro with cords, and hung them from their Obi(=sash).
They competed beauty of Inro.
As both high-ranked Samurai and wealthy merchant class asked for artistic Inro, techniques and skills of producing Inro have been much advanced.

In this period, skillful Maki-e craftsmen who gained distinctions also participated in producing Inro.
The Koami, Kajikawa and Koma are well known as good families of Inro Maki-e craftsmen.
Iizuka Toyo, Hara Yoyusai, Nakayama Komin, Koma Kansai and Shibata Zeshin in Edo area, Yamamoto Shunsho, Shiomi Masanari, Nakaoji Shgehide, Tamura Hisahide and Yamamoto Mitsutoshi in Kyoto area are famous as master Maki-e craftsmen.
Illustration of Inro


Nashi-ji Nashi means pear in Japanese. Sprinkle Nashi-ji metal powders on a surface, then, finish with Nashi-ji Urushi lacquer. It looks like a surface of pear fruit.
Maki-e Draw a pattern with Urushi lacquer, then, sprinkle gold or other colored powders on it.
Chinkin Score a pattern in carving. Then, lacquer and rub gold-powder into the grooves.
Urushi-e Paint with colored Urushi lacquers.
Raden Apply cut linings of mother-of-pearl, abalone or precious metals into a surface of a target.

Types of Maki-e

Broadly speaking, crafting techniques of Maki-e are divided in the "Hira-Makie", "Togidashi-Makie" and "Taka-Makie".
Hirafun means flat powder. Maki-e lacquering with Hirafun powder.
Paint the target on a Hira-Makie lacquered surface with Roiro-Urushi (=oilless Urushi lacquer) , then, polish and finish with charcoal.
Express a pattern by heaping up the target with lacquer or charcoal powder, then, Maki-e lacquer on it.
Maki-e made by a combination of the Taka-Makie and Togidashi-Makie.
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