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Atsuita robe, unknown producer, 1750 - 1850. Museum no. T.297-1963


A robe for the Nō theatre worn by actors playing male roles


The tea ceremony (literally ‘hot water for tea’); also sadō or chadō (‘the way of tea’)


An enamelling technique in which fine wires are used to delineate the areas into which the enamel paste is applied


A regional feudal lord


‘Large and small’, the katana and wakizashi swords worn in combination


Ceramic with the body made from clay fired to between 800 and 1100˚ Celsius; unvitrified and permeable by water


Matching collar and pommel fitted to either end of the sword-hilt

Furisode kimono, unknown producer, 1870-1880. Museum no. FE.29-1987


‘Swinging sleeve’ kimono worn by young, unmarried women

Genji monogatari

The Tale of Genji, a long prose romance written by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the eleventh century


A type of chalk (or plaster of Paris) ‘wash’ used as an undercoat in, for example, the decoration of a mask


A basic form of maki-e in which metal dust is sprinkled onto still-wet lacquer and then covered with a further layer of lacquer


‘Seal basket’, a small decorative container worn hanging from the waist sash, often lacquered

The Kabuki Actors Iwai Shijaku I and Bando Jutaro, woodblock print, Shunbaisai Hokuei, 1832. Museum no. E.3873-1916


Popular drama that developed in the seventeenth century


A robe for the Nō theatre worn by actors playing female roles


A hunting tunic worn at the imperial court and in the Nō theatre


A resist-dyeing technique in which warp and/or weft threads are pre-dyed so as to form patterns when the cloth is woven


A summer kimono usually made of ramie


The longer of the two swords in daishō mounts, generally about 90 cm long

Kazaridachi sword and scabbard, Masatoshi, M.144-1915


A decorative style of sword (tachi) mounting worn at court


A rectangular robe worn by Buddhist priests


This literally means ‘the thing worn’, from the late sixteenth century this was the principal garment for both sexes and all classes


‘Cut metal’, small squares of gold and silver used in lacquer decoration


A skewer that fits into the scabbard of a sword


Small knife that fits into the scabbard of a sword

Kosode, unknown maker, 1800 - 1850. Museum no. FE.101-1982


'Small sleeve’, the precursor of the kimono


The handle of the kogatana


‘Sprinkled picture’, a technique of lacquer decoration; see also hiramaki-e, takamaki-e and togidashi-e


Taffeta-like silk fabric that was very popular in the first half of the twentieth century


Small metal ornaments fitted under the wrapping of the sword-hilt


A family crest or badge, often used as a decorative motif


'Piled-up’, the technique of applying enamels in layers so that they are in relief to the body of the vessel

Vase decorated with musen enamels, unknown maker, about 1912 - 1926. Museum no. FE.19:1, 2-2011


‘Without wires’, the enamelling technique where the wires are either completely hidden or are removed before the firing, to create a softly outlined decoration


‘Southern Barbarian’, the term used by the Japanese to describe European visitors during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and applied to artefacts produced for Europeans or under European influence


‘Pear-skin ground’, irregularly shaped flakes of gold suspended in clear or yellowish lacquer


A decorative toggle worn with inrō

Aristocratic drama originating in the fourteenth century


One of the standard sizes of woodblock print; about 33 x 27 cm in either vertical or horizontal format


A sash worn around the waist to secure the kimono

Inro, netsuke and ojime, unknown maker, about 1750 - 1850. Museum no. W.190:1 to 3-1922


A decorative bead used to secure and tighten the cords between the netsuke and inrō


Ceramic decoration, usually painted, which is applied over the glaze after the high-temperature firing

Oxidation firing

A firing technique in which sufficient air is allowed into the kiln for complete combustion of the fuel. Cchemically reactive parts of the ceramic material emerge from the firing in an oxidized state


A technique to induce a change in the surface of an object, typically of metal


Ceramic with the body made from china stone (crushed volcanic rock in Arita) containing kaolin (a pure form of clay) and fired to between 1250 and 1350˚ Celsius; translucent, white, vitrified and impermeable by water

Reduction firing

A firing technique in which the flow of air into the kiln is restricted; the burning fuel draws chemically bonded
oxygen from the reactive parts of the ceramic material, leaving them in a reduced state

Myriad Green Leaves, resist-dyed kimono, Machiko Furusawa,1992. Museum no. FE.422:1-1992


The patterning of fabric or yarn by protecting selected areas from dye


An alloy of copper decorated with black lacquer and gilt


An alloy of copper with a small percentage of gold, which is patinated to a blue-black colour


A resist-dyeing method by which sections of cloth are bound, stitched, folded or clamped to avoid penetration of the colour when the fabric is immersed in the dye vat


An alloy of copper (approx. 75%) and silver (approx. 25%), which can be patinated to a wide range of colours


The indigenous belief system of Japan, based on the veneration of natural phenomena


Military ruler of Japan from 1185 to 1868, in theory exercising his power with the consent of the emperor


Literally ‘few’ or ‘limited’ wires, the enamelling technique whereby the number of wires was kept to a minimum and used only to delineate details of a design


Liquid clay used in ceramic decoration


Ceramic with the body made from clay and fired to between 1200 and 1300˚ Celsius; vitrified and impermeable by water

Netsuke in the form of the gods Hotei and Daikoku as sumo wrestlers, first half of the 19th century, . Museum no. A.9-1915


Traditional Japanese wrestling


A Buddhist written scripture


‘Inkstone box’, a box containing an inkstone for grinding solid ink with water, a water-dropper, brushes
and other writing utensils


A sword worn cutting-edge down in the scabbard


A form of maki-e in which lacquer is built up in relief with powdered clay or charcoal


‘Short sword’, but a term generally applied to daggers

Togidashi-e, togidashi maki-e

‘Polished-out picture’, a form of lacquer decoration in which a maki-e design is covered over with several layers of lacquer of the same colour as the background. These layers are then polished down until the original design reappears, flush with the new background


An alcove forming the focal point of tea rooms and other formal rooms and used for the display of scrolls, flowers, etc.


Pierced body enamel in which part of the design is cut into the body before enamelling

Tsuba, about 1600 - 1650. Museum no. M.105-1911


A sword-guard


An outer kimono with a padded hem, worn without an obi


A ceramic decoration, usually painted, which is applied to the body of a pot before it is glazed and fired


The shorter of the two swords in daishō mounts, generally about 60 cm long


‘With wires’, the standard technique of creating cloisonné designs enclosed within wires


A resist-dyeing technique that involves drawing on cloth with paste extruded from a cloth bag and which forms a protective barrier when dyes are brushed on. This is named after the artist Miyazaki Yūzen (1654?–1736), who is credited with its invention


13,500 – 300 BC Jōmon period
300 BC – AD 300
Yayoi period
300 – 646
Kofun period
552 – 710
Asuka period
710 – 794
Nara period
794 – 1185
Heian period
1185 – 1333
Kamakura period
1336 – 1392
Nanbokuchō period
1392 – 1573
Muromachi period
1573 – 1615
Momoyama period
1615 – 1868
Edo period
1868 – 1912
Meiji period
1912 – 1926
Taishō period
1926 – 1989
Shōwa period
1989 – present
Heisei period

Japanese Art and Design by Gregory Irvine

This glossary is an extract from the book Japanese Art and Design: The Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum edited by Gregory Irvine, published to accompany the reopening of the V&A's refurbished Toshiba Gallery of Art and Design in November 2015.    

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