The decoration of this suzuribako writing box refers to the tale of the »cut-tongue sparrow« (shitakiri suzume). The story centers on an old man who goes out to cut ﬁrewood when he sees a wounded sparrow. Being kind-hearted, he takes it home to care for it, but his wife cuts out the bird’s tongue in a ﬁt of jealousy. The old man goes out to look for the sparrow and ﬁnds it deep in a bamboo grove, in the splendid homeland of the sparrows. In the end the old man is rewarded with treasures while his wife is punished.
The maker of the box has taken this popular story as his topic and cleverly recreated the narration in lacquer format. We start with the round central medallion, which depicts the wood-carrying backpack of the old man and his large wood-cutting ax. The narrative then continues to the edges of the box cover and the bamboo grove of the sparrows. Once we open the cover, thus entering the bamboo grove, we are met by a large reception party of sparrows, ﬂying on the inside of the cover, announcing our arrival in the land of the sparrows. The water pourer in the shape of four bamboo leaves connects the sparrows back to the outside bamboo theme.
As for the lacquer techniques used, the circular panel on top is decorated in takamakie high-relief gold lacquer in various hues on a kinji brightly polished gold and silver lacquer ground. The top and all eight sides are decorated with a bamboo motif likewise executed in takamakie raised gold lacquer with inlaid pieces of kirigane gold foil on a ﬁne nashiji gold-ﬂake ground. The rocks have inlaid kirigane gold-foil pieces in many different shapes, and the waves are created in hiramakie lacquer. The multitude of ﬂying sparrows inside the cover are made in takamakie high-relief gold, silver and black lacquer with minute feather details on a ﬁne nashiji ground. The original suzuri ink stone is lacquered with gold powder and nashiji.
Comes with a fitted wooden storage box. Inscription on the inside of the storage box: »Suzuribako by Dōho. The Maeda clan gave this to their samurai doctor, who then gave it to the Tanimura family, who gave it to the present Miyamoto family.«
According to the inscription on the box, the box originated in the Maeda clan, for centuries the powerful daimyō of Kaga province. The Igarashi family of lacquer masters (with the names Dōho I, Dōho II, Dōho III, and their followers) worked as lacquerers for the daimyō, creating objects for his personal use and for gift-giving. This special relationship between the Igarashi atelier and the Maeda daimyō lasted for much of the Edo period.1 Although impossible to prove, it is very possible that this sophisticated writing box was created by a lacquer artist in the Igarashi Dōho line and that the Maeda daimyō indeed gave this box to his samurai doctor for special services rendered.