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Inrō, design of minute patterns in mother-of-pearl inlay, Somada school, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum

An inrō (印籠, Inrō) is a traditional Japanese case for holding small objects, suspended from the obi (sash) worn around the waist. They are often highly decorated, in a variety of materials and techniques, in particular often using lacquer.

Because traditional Japanese robes lacked pockets, objects were often carried by hanging them from the obi in containers known as sagemono (a hanging object attached to a sash). Most sagemono were created for specialized contents, such as tobacco, pipes, writing brush and ink, but the type known as inro was suitable for carrying anything small.

In the middle of the Edo period (1603–1868), Inro became popular as men's accessories, and wealthy merchants of the chōnin class and samurai class collected inro of high aesthetic value, precisely designed with lacquer. As the technique developed from the late Edo period to the Meiji period (1868-1912) and the artistic value of inro increased, inro was no longer used as an accessory and came to be regarded as an art object for collection.[1][2]

The term inro is a combination of the kanji for "印" (in), which means a seal, and the kanji for "籠" (), which means a basket.


Inro components
An inro suspended by a netsuke and held together with an ojime

Consisting of a stack of tiny, nested boxes, inro were most commonly used to carry identity seals and medicine. The stack of boxes is held together by a cord that is laced through cord runners down one side, under the bottom, and up the opposite side. The ends of the cord are secured to a netsuke, a kind of toggle that is passed between the sash and pants and then hooked over the top of the sash to suspend the inro. An ojime bead is provided on the cords between the inro and netsuke to hold the boxes together. This bead is slid down the two suspension cords to the top of the inro to hold the stack together while the inro is worn, and slid up to the netsuke when the boxes need to be unstacked to access their contents.

The main material of inro is made of paper, wood, metal, or ivory, and most of them are made of paper. Paper inro is made by winding and hardening many layers of washi and lacquer. This is because wood tends to be distorted and cracked, and especially as a portable case, it has a problem in durability. Generally, the surface is often coated with lacquer, and gorgeous ones are lavishly decorated with maki-e, raden, ivory inlay and metal foil. Inro, like the ojime and netsuke they were associated with, evolved over time from strictly utilitarian articles into objects of high art and immense craftsmanship.[1][2].


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Masayuki Murata. 明治工芸入門 pp.104-106. Me no Me, 2017 ISBN 978-4907211110
  2. ^ a b Yūji Yamashita. 明治の細密工芸 p.80-81. Heibonsha, 2014 ISBN 978-4582922172
  • Bushell, Raymond "The Inrō Handbook", Weatherhill, 2002. ISBN 0-8348-0135-3
  • "Legend in Japanese Art" by Henri L. Joly; 1908/1967; Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland VT; ISBN 0-8048-0358-7

External links[edit]