Last Saturday our Museum Access Assistants journeyed to Japan without leaving Nuneaton via a selection of Japanese objects from the museum collections including a Japanese clockwork flytrap, a miniature teaset, a kinchaku (money pouch), a Satsumaware vase and a cigar case.
From left to right: Japanese miniature tea set, Satsumaware vase, clockwork flytrap, kinchaku, cigar case
The Japanese objects are pictured above in situ, ready for sharing with visitors in our monthly Hands on History session. While the clockwork flytrap fascinated visitors with its unusual design and unique purpose, it was the Japanese cigar case that drew the greatest admiration, specifically for its decorative beauty.
Cigar case with gilt frame and metal clasp
The cigar case features a different pictorial design on either side, employing mother of pearl, tortoiseshell and coloured horn applied to an ivory base. The materials are precisely and minutely carved to depict flowers, trees, birds and greenery.
Two peacocks and mother of pearl and tortoiseshell blossom tree
One side of the cigar case presents two peacocks under a blossom tree. The mother of pearl blossoms have a silvery appearance and catch the light captivatingly as illustrated in the detail below. In traditional Japanese art peacocks are imbued with religious and optimistic symbolism, considered as symbols of wisdom with the power to prevent the faithful from straying into evil.
Mother of pearl blossoms
The opposite side of the cigar case shows three smaller birds among flowers, leaves and branches. The portrayal of birds and flowers has a far-reaching history in Japanese art and is called kacho-e. Kacho-e first appeared in Japan during the 14th century, inspired by the Chinese Sung and Yuan dynasty paintings being imported into Japan at that time. The first kacho-e were created by Buddhist monks, who produced ink drawings featuring lotus, plum, bamboo and birds.
Three small birds, mother of pearl flowers, leaves and branches
Decorative appeal has not been overlooked for the interior of the cigar case, of course. A gilt clasp pushes in to open up the two halves of the case, revealing two compartments overlaid with brocade style fabric that lifts up, behind which cigars would be kept.
Cigar case interior
In Japan, tobacco smoking evolved as an aspect of the Japanese tea ceremony, in which many of the traditional objects used to burn incense began to be adopted for tobacco smoking.
Thank you to everyone who came along to our session! Our next Hands on History session is called ‘Set in Stone’ and will take place on Saturday 21st September.