An inrō (印籠) (plural the same) 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 Japanese generic term for 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 inrō was suitable for carrying anything small.
The term inrō derives from the Sino-Japanese roots in (from Middle Chinese 'jin 印 "seal") and rō (MC luwng 籠 "cage"). In English the word may be italicized, or not. American English tends to favour the former, British English the latter.
Consisting of a stack of tiny, nested boxes, inrō 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 inrō. An ojime, or bead, is provided on the cords between the inrō and netsuke to hold the boxes together. This bead is slid down the two suspension cords to the top of the inrō to hold the stack together while the inrō is worn, and slid up to the netsuke when the boxes need to be unstacked to access their contents. Inrō were made of a variety of materials, including wood, ivory, bone, and lacquer. Lacquer was also used to decorate inro made of other materials.
- 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
Media related to Inro at Wikimedia Commons
- Netsuke: masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains many examples of Inro
- Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery