This is one of a group of boxes and inro decorated in togidashi technique with designs taken from illustrated books, usually by the prolific Kyoto artist Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1751), and often signed by members of the Yamamoto Shunsho line of lacquerers. The present subject, of a large boat with a roofed section and many passengers approached by a smaller boat, may derive from volume 2, page 12 version of Ehon sonare matsu, published in 1736, but differs in both overall composition and detail [see 1 below]. This may be due to reworking of the design by the lacquer artist, or it may be that an identical scene can be found in another of the very numerous publications of this type by Sukenobu and his contemporaries. Boating scenes were popular on these togidashi pieces, especially on inro [see 2 below]; one scene in particular, of a firefly-viewing party is found on a suzuribako in both the Victoria and Albert Museum and Chiddingstone Castle, Kent and is taken from another Sukenobu book, Ehon Makuzugahara (1741) [see 3 below]. The suggestion has been made in a recent Japanese publication that these boxes, although probably first made in the 18th century, may have enjoyed a revival in the Meiji period thanks to the Western vogue for Japanese prints [see 4 below].
1 Victoria and Albert Museum, Far Eastern Department, E.14992-1886
2 Eskenazi Limited, Japanese Inro and Lacquer-ware from a Private Swedish Collection, (London, 1996), cat. nos. 51-2
3 Earle, Joe, "What Shall We Do About Japanese Lacquer?", Orientations, 17/12 (December 1986), 53-60
4 Kyoto National Museum, Makie, shikkoku to ogon no Nihonbi [The beauty of black and gold Japanese lacquer], (Kyoto, 1995), cat. nos. 206-7