Important Cultural PropertySutra box depicting peacocks in gold inlay

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  • 25.7×23.3×40.0 cm
  • Yuan dynasty (China), 1315
  • Kyushu National Museum
  • H6

During the Muromachi period (14th–16th century), many sutras came to Japan from China stored in sutra boxes decorated in gold inlay (Ch. qiangjin). The boxes themselves were highly prized in Japan, and passed down through the generations. Although this work is similar to several other extant boxes in the nation, it stands out as an artifact as it bears an inscription and has been well-preserved through the ages.

In terms of physical features, this box is rectangular with wide, beveled edges (chamfers) and a fitted lid. Resting within water caltrop–shaped frames on the lid and three sides of the box are pairs of peacocks (the last side depicts a pair of parrots instead) and cloud motifs, while the space outside the frames is filled with peony and other arabesque motifs; these designs are all rendered in gold inlay. The decoration process involves carving shallow grooves into a dry lacquered surface, applying wet lacquer to the grooves as an adhesive, then inserting gold foil as an inlay. This technique is also known as chinkin (lit., “sunken gold”) in Japanese.

The inner surface of the lid bears an inscription reading “Yanyou 2, Hangzhou Oil Bureau, Dongliang Chanzheng, made by the Qiaojin family.” This lacquer inscription was likely created using a stencil, and identifies the box as a work created in Hangzhou, Zhejiang in the year 1315. As an artifact, it helps us gain a better understanding of the way in which Japan was importing objects from China during that time.