Vintage Japanese Altar Offering Tray | Sanbou with Bats and Dragons

This vintage altar tray was once used to present offerings to a deity within a Japanese Butsudan. The tray is made of Rosewood, and is a bit unusual, as it has been decorated with eight carved flying dragons and four carved bats. Shinto offering stands (sanbou) differ from Buddhist offering stands (keshoku) in that they are more frequently square shaped, and the wood finish left natural and/or simply decorated with minimal paintings or carvings.

Symbolism has always been a way to communicate thoughts, meanings, and hopes of a particular society. Bats, (koumori), symbolize happiness and good luck in which health, long life, and wealth remain important aspects in Japanese culture. Dragons, (tatsu), symbolize wisdom and longevity, and represent the primal forces of nature, religion, and the universe. One will find bat and dragon symbolism in any environment (particularly religious) that embodies: illusion, rebirth, dreams, intuition, journeys, inner peace, and communication.

When we purchased the tray in Japan, were told that the piece was from Okinawa, where bats are common and regularly used as a motif. It is said that the bat and dragon eternally support individuals on their spiritual path and journey to obtain one’s highest potential. Thus we see both motifs on numerous religious structures and altar accessories throughout Japan. Additionally, the four legs of the Sanbou are covered in bronze which have patinated beautifully overtime as they encase each leg and foot. Age: Early 1900’s. Dimension: 9-1/2” sq. x 3-0” h

Sellers Note on the condition needing further clarification… This Sanbou is ‘old’, and has all the physical attributes of a 100 year old artifact, but it remains extremely sturdy. The uneven coloration of the inside bottom of the tray is the result of what was placed in it as an offering, (most likely fruit, sake, or flowers). There is a small loss of wood on the bottom of the tray obviously due to use, which does not affect its function. Part of the bat motif on the edging of one apron has a chip, with part of the bat motif (edge of wing) missing (see image #3 & #5) with minimal imperfections. This does not detract from the enjoyment of the piece, for it represents graceful aging and respectful use.

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