Japanese Crafts: Inro
Inro ('seal-basket’) are small decorative containers that hang from the waist. They originated at the end of the sixteenth century and were worn by men to hold seals and herbal and other medicines. They were considered a particularly good way of keeping the contents sealed and fresh. By the eighteenth century they had become decorative accessories and were commissioned by the merchant class, provincial rulers and their samurai, and those that could afford them.
Inro are made from very thin leather, wood or paper covered in decorated lacquer. They consist of separate sections stacked on top of each other, and are kept together by a cord loop that passes through a channel on each side and underneath the bottom section. The sections are held together when the cord is tightened by pulling it through a bead (ojime), rather like the toggles used in outdoor clothing. The cord is then passed behind the waist sash (obi) so that the inro hangs freely from the waist. To prevent the inro from slipping through the obi, a small and often decorative toggle (netsuke) is attached to the end of the cord.
There is no fixed form of decoration. As with other objects, surfaces are decorated with a variety of subjects: figures were popular, sometimes engaged in the performing arts; monkeys, lions and oxen can also be seen; the changing seasons occur frequently.
Inro dragon design, Japan
Laquered wood, abalone shell
Museum no. W.195-1922
Inro with a design of dragon in flight over water.
Inro with fish and sea creature design by Kakosai, Japan
Laquered wood, shell, horn, coloured ivory
Museum no. W.158-1922
Inro with a design of fish and sea creatures.
Inro silhouette design, Japan
Late 18th - 19th century
Wood, black and gold togiadashie lacquer
Museum no. W.159-1922
Inro showing performing figures seen through a shoji (paper sliding door).
Inro temple bell design by Ogawa Horitsu, Japan
Museum no. W.339-1922
Inro with in the form of an old rusty iron temple bell.
Inro guri (cloud) design, Japan
Late 18th - early 19th century
Museum no. W.22:1-1923
Inro with a design of guri (clouds) carved into coloured lacquer.