Inro, Japan

Inro, Japan

Inro
Japan
About 1750-1850
Museum no. W.222-1922

The inro is a container made up of tiers. Japanese men used them because the traditional Japanese garment, the kimono, had no pockets. From the late 1500s onwards, Japanese men wore the inro suspended from their sash by a silk cord and a netsuke (toggle). They originally used it to hold their seal and ink or a supply of medicines. However, it rapidly became a costly fashion accessory of little or no practical use. Most inro are rectangular with gently curving sides. Makers used a great variety of decorative styles and layout. On this example, the maker has spread the decoration over the entire body. As a result, the inro often cuts the decoration at unusual or unexpected places. This design shows 115 monkeys, many of which are dressed like human beings and engaged in human activities. It is a remarkable achievement given the small scale of the decoration and the use of the makie (sprinkled picture) technique. This involves sprinkling gold, red and brown powders on to a prepared lacquer surface to create the design.