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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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Y A LACQUER TEBAKO (ACCESSORIES BOX) JAPANESE, MEIJI PERIOD
Apr 24, 10:30 AM BST
Y A LACQUER TEBAKO (ACCESSORIES BOX) JAPANESE, MEIJI PERIOD
by Dreweatts 1759 Fine Sales
Est: £300- £400
£3,50029 Bids
Two Pieces of Japanese Silver
Apr 21, 12:00 PM EDT
Two Pieces of Japanese Silver
by Locati LLC
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
JAPAN - NAGASAKI LACQUER AND MARQUETRY MASONIC CHEST, EDO, 19TH CENTURY.
Apr 27, 11:00 AM CEST
JAPAN - NAGASAKI LACQUER AND MARQUETRY MASONIC CHEST, EDO, 19TH CENTURY.
by Goldfield Auction
Est: €800- €1,500
€8001 Bid
Japanese music box, 1900
Apr 20, 9:00 AM CEST
Japanese music box, 1900
by Twents Veilinghuis
Est: €80- €240
€801 Bid
Japanese Maki-e Lacquerware 12 Coasters with Canisters
Apr 27, 9:30 AM EDT
Japanese Maki-e Lacquerware 12 Coasters with Canisters
by Luban Antique
Est: $100- $300
$200 Bids
QING DYNASTY RED SANDALWOOD JAPANESE HORN FULL COVER BOX
May 04, 3:00 PM PDT
QING DYNASTY RED SANDALWOOD JAPANESE HORN FULL COVER BOX
by Mega International Auction
Est: $2,000- $3,000
$1,1000 Bids
JAPANESE INLAYING(PURE GOLD) GOLD CIGARETTE CASE
Apr 20, 3:00 PM PDT
JAPANESE INLAYING(PURE GOLD) GOLD CIGARETTE CASE
by Mega International Auction
Est: $6,000- $7,000
$5,0000 Bids
Japanese box plated
Apr 20, 9:00 AM CEST
Japanese box plated
by Twents Veilinghuis
Est: €50- €150
€500 Bids
Japanischer Lackkasten
May 03, 10:00 AM CEST
Japanischer Lackkasten
by Kiefer Buch- und Kunstauktionen
Est: €80- €120
€800 Bids
JAPON - XXe siècle
Apr 28, 10:30 AM CEST
JAPON - XXe siècle
by OXIO
Est: €20- €30
€200 Bids
ANTIQUE JAPANESE MEIJI ERA CLOISONNE ENAMEL KOGO BOX
Apr 27, 10:00 AM EDT
ANTIQUE JAPANESE MEIJI ERA CLOISONNE ENAMEL KOGO BOX
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
JAPANESE CLOISONNE BOX W FLOWERS BY ANDO IOB
Apr 27, 10:00 AM EDT
JAPANESE CLOISONNE BOX W FLOWERS BY ANDO IOB
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
A Good Japanese Lacquer Box
Apr 21, 12:00 PM EDT
A Good Japanese Lacquer Box
by Locati LLC
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids
A Group of Japanese Lacquerware
Apr 21, 12:00 PM EDT
A Group of Japanese Lacquerware
by Locati LLC
Est: $200- $400
$1000 Bids
A Group of Japanese Lacquer
Apr 21, 12:00 PM EDT
A Group of Japanese Lacquer
by Locati LLC
Est: $200- $300
$1000 Bids
JAPANESE RED LACQUERWARE SET, EIGHT PIECES.
Apr 20, 11:00 AM EDT
JAPANESE RED LACQUERWARE SET, EIGHT PIECES.
by Metropolitan Auction of Art Inc.
Est: $500- $700
$1750 Bids
Japanese Cloisonne Pigeon Blood Enamel Ginbari Box
May 05, 10:30 AM PDT
Japanese Cloisonne Pigeon Blood Enamel Ginbari Box
by Global Auctions Company
Est: $150- $250
$1300 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Japanese Boxes


Clars Auctions

Clars Auctions

Locati LLC

Locati LLC

Webb’s – Specialist Auctioneers

Webb’s – Specialist Auctioneers