All five Calligraphy drawers, nest on top of a deeper brush & ink supplies box at its base, incorporating a woven ribbon loop which ties the complete lacquered box set together.
Japanese Calligraphy (Shodo or Shuji) evolved out of Chinese writing and symbols some 2000 years ago at a time when Japan had not yet developed its own written form of language but this was to gradually change from the 5th to the 8th century.
Overtime a unique Japanese writing system of symbols and characters evolved incorporating a combination of the Kana and Kanji dialects as important Japanese artist and calligraphers created what was to become the first truly Japanese calligraphic form.
Japanese calligraphy is truly a unique and sophisticated art form with an emphasis on the aesthetic and is often passed down from one generation to the next.
Known as Shodo, it revolves around beauty and balance with long flowing brush strokes usually done with a bamboo brush and Sumi ink.
There are four traditional tools used in Japanese calligraphy which are:
The Brush (Fude) : made from fine, long animal hair on a bamboo/wooden handle
The Ink Stick (Sumi) : Traditional Sumi ink is made from the hardened mixture of vegetable or pine soot and glue and formed into small sticks with the best Sumi often between 50 and 100 years old.
Mulberry Paper (Washi) : Hand made paper
Ink Stone (Suzuri) : Traditionally made of stone, the Ink Stick is ground against it and mixed with water from a dropper to create a black velvety ink.
The artist might also use a paper weight (bunchin) to hold the paper in place together with a cloth (shitajiki) under the paper to prevent ink bleed through plus a personal Seal (in) which is carved by the artist.
Of course, all these calligraphy supplies needed to be carried and the first Suzuri-Bako boxes started to make their appearance in 9th century Japan.
In order for the artist to produce a high-quality calligraphy script, their tools needed to be protected from the elements. Ink stones are extremely fragile whilst the ink sticks need to be kept free of any moisture. For this reason, a traditional Suzuri-Bako is finished in a waterproof resin-based lacquer and made of high quality Elm (Keyaki), Kiri (Paulownia) Rosewood (shitan) Ebony (Kokutan) or Ironwood (Tagaysan).
Over time the Suzuri-Bako became more and more decorative, with pearl and exotic wood inlays together with silver and gold leaf.
This is a unique Sururi-Bako given that it consists of 5 individual nested trays as well as a larger base tray which would contain brushes, cloth and Ink sticks.
When I purchased this Suzuri-Bako in a small stall in Nozawa Onsen village, Nagano, Japan, I was told it was probably used by a master calligrapher as teaching tools for a number of students.
Whatever its origin, with its traditional ink stones, and porcelain water droppers/brush rests, it's a gorgeous and practical example of Japanese aesthetics and the beautiful art of Shodo. Measuring 23 cm high by 21 cm long and 11 cm wide complete with a woven box looped carrying tie to hold all the trays together. I understand that this Suzuri-Bako is made of Elm.
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