A suzuribako (writing box), the cover formed from a split, dried, and hollowed natural double gourd; the exterior polished, coated in fuki-urushi (clear lacquer repeatedly applied and wiped away), and...
A suzuribako (writing box), the cover formed from a split, dried, and hollowed natural double gourd; the exterior polished, coated in fuki-urushi (clear lacquer repeatedly applied and wiped away), and decorated in gold hiramaki-e and shell inlay with a bundle of brushwood and two falling cherry blossoms; the interior of the lid with five maple leaves in gold hiramaki-e; the box with wood substrate covered in red lacquer, set with a suzuri (ink stone) with gold lacquer rim and a circular silver suiteki (water dropper) with a textured surface, stamped underneath Jungin 純銀 (Pure silver)
Fitted wooden tomobako storage box inscribed outside Yōrō maki-e hisago suzuri 養老蒔絵 瓢 硯 (Gourd-[shaped] ink-stone [box] with maki-e design of Yōrō); signed inside the lid Heian Zōhiko 平安象彦 (Zōhiko of Kyoto); seal: 象彦 Zōhiko
The restrained decoration of this unusual suzuribako incorporates a literary reference that might be easy to miss had the maker not supplied the box with a name, Yōrō. This is the title of a well-known drama by the great No-theater dramatist Zeami Motokiyo (1363–1443), whose simple plot goes as follows: The Emperor hears of a miraculous spring and sends an envoy to learn more about it. A young woodcutter (indicated here by a bundle of brushwood) who found the spring reports that when he took some of its water home for his parents to drink, they felt mentally and physically refreshed, so they decided to name it Yōrō no mizu (literally, “Water that Nourishes the Elderly”). The old couple take the envoy to the spring and recount a series of stories about other medicinal waters before making an offering of Yōrō no mizu to the Emperor. The envoy gives thanks and returns to the capital, flowers fall from the sky, and heavenly music is heard.
The Zōhiko was a Kyoto dynasty of craftsman-entrepreneurs dating back to the late seventeenth century. After the Meiji Restoration of 1867–1868, the family throve under the patronage of the Mitsui and other wealthy merchant families, as well as the Imperial Household.