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Japanese Boxes

From puzzle boxes, to bento boxes, to writing boxes, Japanese boxes are outstanding exhibits of artistic skill and creativity paired with utility. They can be created from lacquered wood, ivory, and metal. Lacquered boxes can be decorated with gilding, paint, mother-of-pearl, or different-colored wood inlays.

Himitsu-Bako, or Japanese puzzle boxes, have been created and used since the Edo era (1603-1868). Himitsu-Bako are built with a complicated mechanism and no immediately visible opening. In order to reveal the contents, the puzzle box must be manipulated in a specific order. Bento boxes, still used in modern day to pack lunch in Japanese culture, have been in use as far back as the 5th century. They are comprised of several compartments that might be stacked or placed next to each other to fit different component of one’s lunch.

The Japanese also greatly prized writing implements and therefore created elaborate boxes to contain inkstones, brushes, and sometimes paper, though this was mostly a very early practice and paper was later stored elsewhere. These boxes became popular in the ninth or tenth century and were lacquered in accordance to rank or social position. Red was likely purposed for the highest rank.


Quick Facts

  • Japanese puzzle boxes greatly vary in complication. Some boxes only take one or two manipulations to open, whereas others are known to take over 1,000 steps to open
  • The word “bento” is said to have originated to describe a simple meal that was pre-prepared and handed out to troops by Oda Nobunaga during the 16th century. This later evolved into rice balls or packed lunches that were either brought or purchased at theaters in the Edo period, or on trains in the Meiji period
  • Lacquered wood writing boxes often depicted motifs that were shared across other art expressions such as kimonos, famous paintings, and classical literature. The inclusion of iris flowers on a Japanese box, for example, was a reference to a well-known scene in the famous "Tales of Ise" poem

Recommended Items at Auction

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A Japanese sterling silver box
Nov 30, 10:00 AM PST
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Nov 30, 9:30 AM GMT
A JAPANESE MEIJI PERIOD IMPERIAL SOLID SILVER PRESENTATION BOX
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Dec 05, 6:00 PM AEDT
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Japanese Boxed Set with Pressed Leaves
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A RARE MYOCHIN IRON KOGO
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vintage modern clay box, possibly Japanese
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A JAPANESE MEIJI PERIOD KOMAI STYLE RECTANGULAR DAMASCENED CIGARETTE CASE
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A RECTANGULAR 'MILLE FLEURS' LIDDED BOX AND A LOWER PART OF A BOX DEPICTING A SEA LANDSCAPE
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A RECTANGULAR 'MILLE FLEURS' LIDDED BOX AND A LOWER PART OF A BOX DEPICTING A SEA LANDSCAPE
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A BRONZE BELL WITH JAPANESE WOOD BOX
Dec 03, 2:00 PM PST
A BRONZE BELL WITH JAPANESE WOOD BOX
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Japanese Lacquer Wood Jewelry Box
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Japanese lacquer box, signed, 4 by 5.5 inches. Co…
Dec 03, 1:00 PM EST
Japanese lacquer box, signed, 4 by 5.5 inches. Co…
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19TH-CENTURY JAPANESE LACQUERED TEA CADDY
Dec 07, 10:00 AM GMT
19TH-CENTURY JAPANESE LACQUERED TEA CADDY
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LOT: DECKELDOSE, GLOCKE UND GRUPPE VON FIGUREN
Dec 12, 10:00 AM CET
LOT: DECKELDOSE, GLOCKE UND GRUPPE VON FIGUREN
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Est: CHF100- CHF180
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LOT: JÛBAKO UND 2 SUZURIBAKO
Dec 12, 10:00 AM CET
LOT: JÛBAKO UND 2 SUZURIBAKO
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Est: CHF180- CHF240
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Sellers Who Sell Japanese Boxes


Galerie Zacke

Galerie Zacke

Designer Homes of Central Florida

Designer Homes of Central Florida

Eldred's

Eldred's

Hutchinson Scott Limited

Hutchinson Scott Limited