17th Century Lacquered Japanese Food Bowl

This lacquerware bowl is highly unusual
because of its size, its elaborate decoration
and in that it commemorates a specific
historical event at a critical juncture in
Japanese history.
YPM catalog no. ANT. 241835


With a lightning design in gold and silver, this lacquer food box, jikiro, was part of a wedding trousseau made early in the 17th century. After 150 years of civil war among the feudal nobles (daiymo) of various clans who ruled lands throughout the islands of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616) established his family’s control over all of Japan. Thereafter, permission of the Tokugawa was required for any marriage of a daiymo or any of his family members. This jikiro commemorates an important marriage between a daughter of the Tokugawa and a member of the Mori clan.

Top: The crest of the Tokugawa.
Below: The crest of the Mori.


The 2 families are identified by their distinctive crests or mons: the hollyhock leaves (aoi) represent the Tokugawa, and the water plantain (omodaka) represents the Mori. The 12 mons of each type on the jikiro indicate that a daughter of the Tokugawa was the bride. Such marriages, along with the policy of alternate year attendance (sankin kotai) at the capital by the daiymo of each clan, were methods by which the Tokugawa maintained political control during 250 years of peace of the Edo Period (1615–1868).

Lid of the bowl showing
the Tokugawa and Mori family crests.
YPM catalog no. ANT. 241835


The defining moment for these 2 families had been at the battle of Sekigahara, fought east of Kyoto on September 16, 1600, where Tokugawa Ieyasu and his troops were victorious over the legions led by Ishida Mitsunari. Mori Terumoto, ruler of the second largest domain in Japan and commander of 30,000 troops, was a fence sitter, submitting to Ieyasu only after the outcome of the battle had become clear. The vanquished were executed, and Terumoto was forced to cede his domain on western Honshu Island to Ieyasu’s allies. The Mori were given a very poor domain, one-third the size of their previous holdings.

This arranged marriage was between Matsudairo Kisa, granddaughter of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Mori Hidenori, son of Mori Terumoto.

Method of Construction


Detail of the laquered gold and silver pattern.
Bowl height 11 inches (28 cm); maximum
diameter 15 inches (38 cm); diameter
of foot 9 inches (23 cm).
YPM catalog no. ANT. 241835


There are 5 materials used in the construction of this Japanese food bowl. The jikiro was shaped on a turning wheel from a well-seasoned woodblock, most likely of cypress. After careful polishing, the wooden substrate was coated with at least 50 layers of lacquer derived from the sap of an Asian sumac (Rhus verniciflua). Each layer took up to 5 days to harden, depending on the temperature and humidity in the workshop. Pulverized natural crystals—black iron oxide for the outer surface, and red cinnabar (mercury sulfide) for the inner surface—were used to color the transparent refined lacquer. The lightning design was applied by sprinkling gold and silver powders (makie) on the still damp lacquer. The mons, cut from gold sheets, likewise were affixed to still wet layers of lacquer.

This wedding gift was most likely made in or near Kyoto in the early 17th century.

Small jikiro from Ainu, Hokkaido, Japan.
Total height of bowl and cover is 6.5 inches
(16.5 cm); diameter 6.5 inches (16.5 cm).
YPM catalog no. ANT. 209154


This small food bowl (jikiro), sparsely decorated with a grapevine design, was obtained from Ainu collections. The interior of both the bowl and its cover is coated in cinnabar lacquer. This delightful piece is characteristic of the Momoyama period, late 16th century (1573–1615).

The Collector: Mabel Loomis Todd (1856–1932)


The track of the 1896 solar eclipse in Japan (diagonal area across upper right corner).
From Mabel Loomis Todd’s Corona and Coronet, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York, 1899.

Inset: The schooner “Coronet” under sail with passengers, including the Todds. They sailed from San Francisco to Yokohama and back.

Yale University Archives


An extraordinary instrument designer in the field of astronomy, David Todd, professor at Amherst College, often led expeditions to photograph the sun’s corona during total eclipses. Mabel, a painter, talented writer, and lecturer who was the first editor of Emily Dickinson’s poems, always accompanied him, reporting on many aspects of these worldwide adventures for American audiences.

The Collector: Mabel Loomis Todd (1856–1932)

Lacquerware collected fromthe Ainu by Mabel Loomis Todd. The pieces in this exhibition can be seen in this photograph.
From Corona and Coronet, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York 1899.


During the two scientific expeditions to Japan in 1887 and 1896 she collected artifacts. The 1896 observation site was at Esashi, on the northern tip of Hokkaido Island. During her 10 days there she rode many miles on horseback, visiting villages and homes of the remnants of the Ainu peoples.

The Collector: Mabel Loomis Todd (1856–1932)


An Ainu couple in their house with lacquerware.
Yale University Archives


For more than a century the Ainu had collected Japanese lacquer as they bartered for fish, seaweed and animal pelts with Japanese traders. Mabel Todd’s photograph of these lacquer items includes the great jikiro shown here.

The Collector: Mabel Loomis Todd (1856–1932)

Lacquerware inside an Ainu house.
Yale University Archives


Curatorial Consultant
Professor Emeritus Robert G. Wheeler

Division of Anthropology, Yale Peabody Museum

Mabel Loomis Todd, Corona and Coronet,
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York, 1899.

Yale University Archives