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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 Slate Ink Stone in a Rosewood Box & a Back Timber Wall Decoration
Nov 03, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Japanese Slate Ink Stone in a Rosewood Box & a Back Timber Wall Decoration
by Theodore Bruce
Est: AUD40- AUD60
AUD11012 Bids
Caixa em porcelana japonesa
Nov 01, 7:00 PM WET
Caixa em porcelana japonesa
by Palácio do Correio Velho
Est: €80- €160
€1205 Bids
Japanese Lacquer Box Princess Marcella Borghese
Oct 30, 1:00 PM EDT
Japanese Lacquer Box Princess Marcella Borghese
by Kavanagh Auctions
Est: $20- $15,000
$203 Bids
Japanese Bronze Lidded Snuff Box
Oct 30, 1:00 PM EDT
Japanese Bronze Lidded Snuff Box
by Kavanagh Auctions
Est: $20- $15,000
$202 Bids
Japanese Doll House Furniture in Box
Oct 30, 10:00 AM EDT
Japanese Doll House Furniture in Box
by Neue Auctions
Est: $50- $150
$251 Bid
Japanese Figural Buddha Lacquered Wood Shrine Box
Nov 17, 12:00 PM EST
Japanese Figural Buddha Lacquered Wood Shrine Box
by Hill Auction Gallery
Est: $100- $1,000
$501 Bid
Japanese Samurai-Dagger, damascene blade with good Hamon
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CEST
Japanese Samurai-Dagger, damascene blade with good Hamon
by Henry's Auktionshaus AG
Est: €180- €360
€1600 Bids
19TH C JAPANESE MIX METAL & LACQUERED BOX SIGNED
Oct 30, 3:00 PM EDT
19TH C JAPANESE MIX METAL & LACQUERED BOX SIGNED
by RB Fine Arts
Est: $350- $500
$2000 Bids
Japan turtle shaped box with leather shell topped with young turtles Sizes: H=120mm L=350mm
Oct 31, 10:00 AM CET
Japan turtle shaped box with leather shell topped with young turtles Sizes: H=120mm L=350mm
by Goldfield Auction
Est: €300- €600
€3000 Bids
KOMATSUZAKI KUNIO (1931 - 1992)
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CEST
KOMATSUZAKI KUNIO (1931 - 1992)
by Hardt Auctions GmbH
Est: €0- €150
€100 Bids
Japanese wooden box for collecting donations from the 19th century, size 40 * 30 * 43 cm
Oct 31, 8:00 PM EET
Japanese wooden box for collecting donations from the 19th century, size 40 * 30 * 43 cm
by Village Gallery Israel
Est: $330- $660
$2200 Bids
4 Japanese Black Lacquer Dragon Nesting Boxes
Oct 30, 1:00 PM EDT
4 Japanese Black Lacquer Dragon Nesting Boxes
by Kavanagh Auctions
Est: $20- $15,000
$200 Bids
An Unusual Japanese Namban Style Lacquer Box
Nov 11, 10:30 AM GMT
An Unusual Japanese Namban Style Lacquer Box
by Dreweatts 1759 Fine Sales
Est: £300- £500
£3000 Bids
Lacquer box, Japan, 19th centu
Nov 04, 10:00 AM CET
Lacquer box, Japan, 19th centu
by Historia Auktionshaus
Est: €0- €0
€1800 Bids
Pseudo carved lacquer box, Jap
Nov 04, 10:00 AM CET
Pseudo carved lacquer box, Jap
by Historia Auktionshaus
Est: €0- €0
€1000 Bids
Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Ginbari Foil Silverplate Vase
Nov 14, 10:00 AM PST
Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Ginbari Foil Silverplate Vase
by Taylor & Harris
Est: $200- $500
$1600 Bids
Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Ginbari Foil Silverplate Vase
Nov 14, 10:00 AM PST
Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Ginbari Foil Silverplate Vase
by Taylor & Harris
Est: $300- $350
$2500 Bids
Japanese Woodblock Print, Mixed lot, three album pages approx. 25.5 x 36 cm, album 1814
Dec 04, 2:00 PM CET
Japanese Woodblock Print, Mixed lot, three album pages approx. 25.5 x 36 cm, album 1814
by Signens Kunstauktionen
Est: €180- €200
€1600 Bids
A BRONZE FIGURE OF A NIÔ AND A BOX AND COVER IN SHAPE OF A STRAW BALE
Nov 11, 9:30 AM CET
A BRONZE FIGURE OF A NIÔ AND A BOX AND COVER IN SHAPE OF A STRAW BALE
by Nagel Auction
Est: €200- €300
€2000 Bids
A BRONZE BOX WITH HINGED COVER DECORATED WITH A SWEEPING MAN AND TWO BIRDS IN A PINE TREE
Nov 11, 9:30 AM CET
A BRONZE BOX WITH HINGED COVER DECORATED WITH A SWEEPING MAN AND TWO BIRDS IN A PINE TREE
by Nagel Auction
Est: €600- €1,000
€6000 Bids
A FINELY CARVED PEONIES AND CHRYSANTHEMUM IVORY BOX AND COVER
Nov 11, 9:30 AM CET
A FINELY CARVED PEONIES AND CHRYSANTHEMUM IVORY BOX AND COVER
by Nagel Auction
Est: €500- €800
€5000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Japanese Boxes


Designer Homes of Central Florida

Designer Homes of Central Florida

Bonhams

Bonhams

Nagel Auction

Nagel Auction

Roseberys

Roseberys