Inro: a functional art

A circular inro decorated with an Eastern dragon

Inro are small containers that could be roughly described as the handbags or pouches of ancient Japan. They had both practical and esthetical value. Though they usually were square, round or polygonal in shape, a variety of special animal shapes also exist. Over time, these containers came to be extremely luxurious and extravagantly decorated gadgets.

Mangasia – Wonderland of Asian Comics in collaboration with Barbican, London

Mangasia, Wonderland of Asian Comics exhibition banner

In collaboration with Barbican, London, we shared some of our cel-ga, books and woodblock prints published in the Edo period that had a direct impact on manga as we know it today. The exhibition is currently on tour and will be exhibited at The Design Society in Shenzhen, China from March to June 2019. We will continue to publish exhibition updates and documentation on our website.

Art as literature, literature as art

Calligraphy tools, an antique vase and a lacquer box on a writing desk, decorated with flowers and personal items

Particularly in the West, we are always interested in the dichotomy of Japanese culture, how it can aspire perfection and celebrate imperfections all at once. This same attitude can be perceived in calligraphy. While it resembles regular writing in that you draw a character top to bottom and left to right, taking care to make certain parts larger than others, another part of Japanese calligraphy is to even out the gaps between strokes, angle each part of a character in relation to another and write powerfully or softly, sometimes carefully or messily, according to the word you are depicting or maybe to suit the special paper you are using. The goal is to combine method, personal judgement and inspiration to create something beautiful. Writing becomes art in a way that is different from Western calligraphy.

Komai metal inlay jewellery

A lacquered wooden jewellery box with 3 Komai metal inlay bracelets.

Metal inlay jewellery is created through a process called damascening. It involves inlaying a steel ground with thin threads of gold and silver. The ground is then sealed through either oxidisation or via use of lacquer.
The Japanese term for damascene work is zogan (象嵌). The latter encompasses not just metal inlay, but can also describe other inlay techniques. One such example is Gohon Mishima ware, which refers to a type of pottery that is decorated via an inlay technique. In the case of Mishima ware, the material used as both a ground and inlay is clay. Another example is Shibayama inlay (Shibayama zogan), which describes lacquer inlayed with shell, coral, tortoiseshell and ivory.