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June 2, 2015

"Shibata Zeshin!"

"God bless you."

No, silly. That's not a sneeze.  Shibata Zeshin was one of the most famous lacquerers
of Japan's 19th century Meiji period.  Reviled by his contemporaries as too modern,
he was also accused of being an overly conservative traditionalist.
(You just can't please everyone.)

Since kimonos do not have pockets, a Japanese man would carry an inro,
above, to hold personal items such as a seal, ink or medicines.  Zeshin
designed inro using lacquer with intricate carvings and gemstone netsuke.

Traced back to the 1500's, an inro tells a story and
is a symbol of status in the Japanese culture.

An inro either contains inner layered boxes to hold personal
items or consists of stacked 'nested' compartments.  It is attached
to an obi (sash) by a cord that runs through a netsuke (toggle.) 


Many inro portray historic Japanese warriors
and reenactments of pre-16th century battles.

In 2011, two Zeshin inro (front and back views below) were
sold in a London auction. This one brought $160,000:

And this inro brought $186,000:


Although known for his lacquer ware, Zeshin also
produced beautiful ink drawings and watercolors on silk:


If you're considering an investment in Japanese antiquities do
your homework and work with an experienced dealer.  
This numbered lot of unsigned antique inro is
estimated to bring $1,300 to $2,000 at auction.

The starting bid for this lot of 3 inro is $1,000.

As our population ages, more and more estate sales and auctions are
featuring Japanese collectibles.  But Buyer Beware - knowledge and deep
pockets are two essentials when planning an oriental antiquities purchase.


  1. So true, buyer beware.
    Beautiful post today.
    I have several "B: grade Japaneses Artifacts.
    I adore my Meiji period Kitchen God and the Shrine warrior god.
    Beautiful works of art.

    cheers, parsnip

  2. Beautiful artifacts but not affordable for me.

  3. I think the Japanese art style is so elegant. Nice post.