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A LACQUER INCENSE BOX (KOBAKO)

MEIJI PERIOD (LATE 19TH CENTURY)

Details
A LACQUER INCENSE BOX (KOBAKO)
meiji period (late 19th century)
The rectangular box decorated on the exterior in iro-e takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, togidashi, e-nashiji and okibirame on a kinji ground with a scene from Nowaki ("The Typhoon"), chapter 28 of The Tale of Genji, the cover illustrated with Yugiri spying on ladies through doors blown ajar, the sides continuing the surrounding garden of chrysanthemums and autumn grasses by a stream and hills, the lines of a poem from the chapter incorporated into the decoration of the cover and each of the four sides, the underside of the cover decorated with a few scattered maple leaves and the remainder of the poem, the base, interior and edges of the box gyobu and nashiji
6 1/8 x 4¼ x 2in. (15.4 x 10.8 x 5.1cm.)

Lot Essay

A poem from Chapter 28 ("The Typhoon") of The Tale of Genji is cleverly written into the design of this box in cursive script:

Kaze sawagi
murakumo magau
yube ni mo
wasururu kimi


Even on a night of raging tempests
I did not forget the one whom I do not forget. 1

The season is autumn, the eighth month, and the poem is written by Yugiri, Genji's son, the morning after a particularly savage typhoon. The words of the poem itself are scattered over the lid as if they, too, were blown by the typhoon. The syllables for kaze (wind) drift on the stream on the lid, sawagi mura kumo continues onto one of the long sides of the box, magau runs along on the next short side, then yube appears on the next long side, followed by ni mo on the final short side. The remainder of the poem is written on the underside of the lid.
The Peeping Tom scene is typical of the world of the Heian court, where men and women, even if related, were kept apart. The wind has blown open a bamboo blind, some doors have been left open, and the young man spies on the ladies of the household from behind a low screen.

1. Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, trans. Edward G. Seidensticker, vol. 1 (New York: Knopf, 1976), p. 465.
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