Bearing a paper label inscribed 'Douane Exportation Paris Centrale'.
The Komai Company is thought to have started production at the very end of the Edo period (1615-1868); the effective founder of the company, Komai Otojiro I (1842-1917), learned his metalworking skills from a maker of sword-fittings and in 1865 became head of the Komai family. Otojiro continued to make sword fittings until the abolition of sword-wearing in 1876, but even before he had started exploiting the export market, he was making ornaments for sale to foreign residents of the port of Kobe. His business prospered thanks in part to his association with the dealer Ikeda Seisuke and his work was shown at foreign exhibitions, probably starting with the Nuremberg Metalwork Exhibition of 1885. He retired in 1906 and his son Seibei (1883-1970) took the name Otojiro II, continuing to work until 1912. It is thought that larger pieces such as model pagodas started to be made during the latter period of the company's activity; one pagoda was acquired by the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, in 1915.
This is probably the only recorded Komai clock, although it is an entirely logical development given the rapid and widespread diffusion of Western clock mechanisms in Meiji-period Japan and the later Komai penchant for miniature pagodas and other buildings.
The variation of this Komai signature Kyoto no ju Komai gensei (originally made by Komai of Kyoto), also seems unrecorded. This 'originally' (gen) may refer to the fact that only the case is Komai work.
The fixtures on the inside of the lower compartment may indicate that the case was originally designed to hold an arrangement of shelves and drawers, as does the seemingly unfinished decoration of a fishing scene on the back.
The movement of the clock is French. Nevertheless, the repetition of the key-fret border and fruiting vine from the pagoda on the dial and chapter ring shows that it was made specifically for this pagoda, albeit at a slightly later date.
This piece is not only extraordinary as a fascinating example of Japanese and Western cultural exchange but also as an example of unparalleled art-metalwork of the later Meiji period.
During the reign of the Meiji emperor, a semi-isolated and feudalistic social system transformed itself in response to the need to compete with the industrialised nations of Europe and America. With the demise of the samurai class, whose annual stipends were abolished in 1876 along with the right to wear swords, a whole generation of metalworkers was forced, with strong support and encouragement from the reforming government, to turn its skill to the manufacture of wares for export to the West. So successful was this policy that already by 1885 Japan was able to show 492 pieces at the Nuremberg Metalwork Exhibition and to win the top prize there. Artefacts from Japans were enthusiastically received and as a result a whole range of objects were executed for Western use, such as cigarette boxes, vases, trays, exotic sculptures and ultimately a clock in the form of a Japanese pagoda.
For examples of similar Komai pagoda, see Impey, Oliver and Fairley, Malcolm (eds.), The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Japanese Art (London, 1995), Volume II, Metalwork, part 1, catalogue numbers 32, 33 and 35.