Vintage Japanese Kamakura Lacquer Document Box with Relief Carving of Lion (Komainu) and Temari Ball
Dimensions: 14-3/8” L x 10-0”w x 4-1/2”h
Not all Kamakura-bori Document Boxes are the same. The motif says a great deal about who uses them and in this case, the “fierceness” of the Lion says it is used by a business person. Though lions are not native to Japan, we can find its symbolism particularly related to the success and goals of a business, particularly that the Lion, (the Japanese term for a lion is Komainu) represents power, strength, confidence, and protection and found on document boxes, on free-standing screens and graphics as well as on the outside of businesses on top of the roof and flanking the entrances. The lion is also called a Lion Dog (Shi-shi alternate name for Lion Dog) and is usually seen in a playful state. Japanese people believe that they ward off harmful and evil spirits, and in this instance made specifically for the owner of a business to support his/her successful operation.
Color plays an essential role in representing aspects of society. This Kamakura-bori Lacquer Document Box has a base color of deep scarlet pigment with a purple tinge and is associated with formality and authority, as opposed to brighter intensities of color which typically symbolize joy and playfulness. It has intricately high relief, (Takamakie), carving, of one large Temari Ball and Lion Dog: the design is made with multiple Urushi-nuri lacquer layers, creating a sculptural effect and polished to the desired effect. The Temari ball incorporates a flowing and long silk tassel with which a Shi-shi, with a tail, is held between its two paws. The image is beautifully scaled, showing wing-like ears, and fiercely expressive and determined eyes. Stylized flowing mane cascades around the neck and shoulders, and its large paws give balance and motion. The base of the box is wood, shaped, carved, and then lacquered with multiple coats. The sides and corners are curved with their surfaces in low relief, (Tiramakie), featuring chisel markings left intentionally to accentuate overall patterned areas. The lid and edging of the top of the box have refined tapering to accentuate the transition of both elements. The interior of the box is high gloss black lacquer.
We see document boxes at auctions but rarely this size and intricately carved, for such pieces are rare and hard to find, particularly with this combination of motifs. “Mingei” are handcrafted items and are rarely signed by the artist or craftsperson, BUT this piece is signed on the front right-hand corner of the lid, and most likely created for a specific customer/owner of the business on request.
Condition. Excellent and retaining the original craft/workmanship and meticulous care. The exceptional quality of carving shows no scratches, no flake-off, and no missing carved elements, with minimal imperfections related to daily use. Meets the standards of the collector of this Japanese folk art genre.