Historical period(s)
Edo period, 1615-1868
Lacquer, gold, and metal leaf on wood
H x W x D: 5.3 x 23.5 x 21.8 cm (2 1/16 x 9 1/4 x 8 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Container, Lacquer

Writing box

Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, lettering, poems, poet, portrait, writing

To 1906
Bunkio Matsuki (1867-1940), Boston, to 1906 [1]

From 1906 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), given by Bunkio Matsuki in 1906 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder sheet note. See Reserved Lacquer List, R. 5012, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Bunkio Matsuki (C.L. Freer source) 1867-1940


On the lid of this box is an imaginary portrait of the poet Ki no Tsurayuki (circa 868-945), compiler of the early tenth-century imperial anthology Kokinshu (Collection of ancient and modern poems). A poem by Tsurayuki from the Kokinshu is inscribed in the space above the tatami mat on which he is seated.

Like my cupped hands (musubu te no)
Spilling drops back into the mountain pool (shizuku ni nigoru)
And clouding its pure waters (yama no i no)
Before the satisfaction of my thirst (akade mo hito ni) 
So have I had to part with you too soon. (wakarenuru ka na)

(Translation by Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner, Japanese Court Poetry [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961], 207-208)

The design of this box was adapted from a page in a woodblock-printed illustrated edition of Sanjurokkasen (Thirty-six immortal poets) published during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by a close associate of the calligrapher and artist, Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637) the wealthy merchant Suminokura Soan (1571-1632). Soan's beautiful editions of classical works of Japanese literature were called Sagabon (Saga editions) after the place where they were printed near Kyoto. Although this lacquer box is only indirectly related to Koetsu, it confirms his enduring prestige and importance to artists of the Edo period.

Published References
  • Ann Yonemura. Japanese Lacquer. Washington, 1979. cat. 21, p. 44.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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