Box for Writing Equipment (suzuribako)

Artist: Matasune
Historical period(s)
Edo period, 17th century
Lacquer, gold, silver, wood; silvered metal water dropper and stone
H x W x D: 5 x 21.6 x 23.7 cm (1 15/16 x 8 1/2 x 9 5/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Writing box (suzuribako)

autumn, Edo period (1615 - 1868), grass, Japan, lettering, moon, poems, writing, WWII-era provenance
Provenance research underway.

The design of flowering autumn grasses is featured on the surfaces of this box. On the lid under a crescent moon, are hagi (bush clover), susuki (pampas grass), fujibakama (ague weed), ominaeshi (valerian), and yomena (aster). The underside of the lid and the interior tray are both decorated with nadeshiko (pinks).

On the rock surfaces depicted on the cover, three silver hiragana symbols (cursive phonetic script) can be detected and combined to make the word nezame (awakening from sleep). The script, cleverly embedded into the linearity of the picture, is the central feature of the uta-e (poem-picture).

The anonymous poem alluded to by the three-syllable clue nezame is included in the early tenth-century anthology, Kokinshu (collection of poems ancient and modern).

It reads:

It is not the autumn dew
That has dropped on my pillowing sleeve
As I awaken.

The box contains an inkstone for grinding solid ink and a water dropper, and would have contained writing brushes.

Published References
  • Encyclopedia Japonica. multi-volumed, Tokyo. vol. 8: p. 193.
  • Alexander G. Mosle. The Mosle Collection: Descriptive Catalogue... Leipzig. cat. 1683, vol. 2: p. 34.
  • Freer Gallery of Art. The Freer Gallery of Art. Washington. p. 16.
  • Ann Yonemura. Japanese Lacquer. Washington, 1979. cat. 18, p. 38.
  • Toda Kenji. Japanese Scroll Painting. Chicago. p. 45.
  • Calendar of Exhibitions. vol. 17, no. 11 Hong Kong, November 1986. p. 65.
  • Fu Shen, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Thomas Lawton. From Concept to Context: Approaches to Asian and Islamic Calligraphy. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 31, pp. 92-93.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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