国宝『片輪車蒔絵螺鈿手箱』National Treasure “Cosmetic Maki-e Box with Carriage Wheels in Water”



Continuing from the previous post, I would like to summarize in detail the national treasure lacquer work.

This national treasure is also in the possession of the Tokyo National Museum and can be photographed, so I would like to introduce the charm of this box.


This box is said to have been made in the 12th century during the Heian period in Japan. It is considered to be the oldest hand box in Japan, and is often introduced in the history of Japanese art as a remarkable work among craft relics.

大きさは高さ13.5cm 縦22.4cm 横30.6cmです。

The size is 13.5 cm in height, 22.4 cm in length and 30.6 cm in width.

箱の用途 Use of the box


東博の展示の英訳はCosmetic Box なので化粧箱としての見解で展示されています。

Initially, this box was supposed to be a hand box for putting makeup tools, but it has been pointed out that it may be a sutra box containing sutras due to the size of the box. It has not been confirmed yet.

The English translation of the exhibition at Tokyo National Museum is Cosmetic Box, so it is displayed from the perspective of a cosmetic box.

箱の作り Box shape

  • 甲盛(こうもり):蓋の真ん中辺りを盛り上げているところ
  • 胴張(どうばり):側面の中央を外側に張り出しているところ
  • 角丸の構造
  • 車輪形の銀の飾金具
  • Koumori(deck) : A place where the center of the lid is raised
  • Dobari: Where the center of the side is overhanging outward
  • Rounded structure
  • Wheel-shaped silver metal fittings


It has a shape wrapped in a soft curved surface that does not destroy the world view of the lacquer work of the pattern and does not feel stiff. In addition, the decorative metal fittings are also in the shape of wheels, which shows the attention to detail.

片輪車 Half of the wheel

牛車 Ox cart



Today, there are various modes of transportation, but the common vehicle for aristocrats during the Heian period was the ox cart.

It is estimated that this ox cart came from China along with the carriage.





It is a car that is literally pulled and moved by a “cow”. In modern times, it is treated as a light vehicle.Horses run fast, but cows don’t. The ox cart is said to have shown the authority of the aristocrats through its heavy construction and decoration, rather than by means of transportation.

Also, it seems that the usage was distinguished between human and luggage.

Since the user of this hand box is also an aristocrat, the theme is an ox cart that is familiar to that aristocrat.

片輪車×流水紋 Half of the wheel shape x running water crest



Why is it a combination of running water on the wheels?

→ At that time, the wheels used in the ox cart were soaked in water to prevent cracking due to drying.



At that time, it is said that it was a popular pattern that was often used for papers and Japanese mirrors for aristocrats to write poetry beautifully.

This hand box is a beautiful lacquer work that you can feel the passage of time slowly due to the presence of the wheels in addition to the flow of water. It can be said to be a pattern that is close to the world of poetry.

仏教的イメージ Buddhistic image



And it is said that this pattern is not just a design of everyday scenery.

It is said that the image of the large lotus flower blooming in the pond of the paradise pure land in the Buddhist world is superimposed. It seems that there are some examples in the sutra that compare a large lotus flower to a wheel.




Examples include the national treasure “Lotus Sutra Booklet” (Shitennoji Collection) and the national treasure “Lotus Sutra (Kunoji Sutra)” (Tetsushuji Collection).

For the aristocrats of that time, Buddhism is their own world view, so it may be impossible to think separately. The art of the Heian period can be said to symbolize Buddhist art in which the idea of the Pure Land of Sukhavati flourished.

You can see that lacquer products are full of Japanese history.

蒔絵技法 Makie technique

  • 背景:研出蒔絵 Background : Togidashi-Makie
  • 車輪・流水文様:平蒔絵 Wheel / running water pattern : Hira-Makie

金と青金の絶妙な相違 Exquisite difference between gold and blue gold


As introduced in the post on the beginning of Makie, lacquer work from the beginning of lacquer work to the early Heian period emphasized the difference in color and combination of gold and silver. It is believed that this is still influenced by the Nara period. From there, in the latter half of the Heian period, the subtle difference between gold and blue gold began to be pursued. This can be said to be a tendency of the Heian Aristocracy’s aesthetic sense to dislike overt expressions.

造粉技術 Powdering technology



Coarse powder is sprinkled on the background and ground parts other than the wheels and running water crest lines. This powder is irregular and is said to retain the roughness of the file when grated.

The irregular powder gives a simple impression that is not found in later lacquer work.


Also, the powder used in the pattern is considerably larger than the powder used in later times, which makes the outline of the pattern blurry, which also creates a soft and gentle feeling of running water.

当時の流行 夜光貝との組み合わせ Combination with the trendy Luminous shellfish at that time




In the latter half of the Heian period, lacquer work developed uniquely to Japan.

The combination of Luminous shellfish and gold lacquer work found in this hand box is said to be a trendy combination of lacquer products that were actively made at that time. Luminous shellfish are still used in this era instead of abalone shellfish.

(Reference post: About abalone shellfish)


In Japan, Luminous shellfish inhabits south of Kyushu. In addition, it is presumed that a relatively large shell was used for this luminous shellfish because one wheel can be cut out with one piece. Thin shells are used, and the height is the same as the surface of the polished lacquer work of gold powder.


In other words, the wheel-shaped shells are placed in a well-balanced manner, pasted before the gold powder, and then smeared and sharpened. In addition, the shell is engraved with powerful and thick lines, such as the outline of the wheels.

螺鈿 + 金と青金 →光の具合によって絶妙な色彩の変化、繊細な感覚表現

Raden + gold and blue gold → Exquisite color change and delicate sensory expression depending on the condition of light

箱の中 In the box



Inside the box, the inside of the body and the back of the lid are painted with lacquer work “togidashi-makie”.

It is a calm lacquer work in contrast to the makie work on the surface.



It is a lacquer work of gold and silver, and a large amount of silver powder is used. It is sprinkled without a boundary between gold powder and silver powder, instead of being sprinkled separately. Folded branches of various flowers, butterflies, birds, etc. are drawn.

Like the wheel pattern, the broken branch pattern is said to be a popular design during the Heian period.


The pictures are not taken very well, but unlike the “Yahashi Makie Raden Box”, this hand box is sometimes displayed so that the inside can be seen. It seems that you can see the exhibition in the lacquer room of the main building with the contents open.




In Japan today, there is no difference in class, and things that ordinary people could not even see at that time can now be seen in museums.

Not only can you see the cultural assets that you can learn about the aesthetics and history of people who lived in those days, but if you know the background, the world of imagination will expand.

If you are interested, please go see it.(Please note that this is not a permanent exhibition)

参考文献 References

  • 文化庁協力『国宝事典 [第四版]』.便利堂,2019
  • 小松大秀/加藤寛『漆芸品の鑑賞基礎知識』.至文堂,1997
  • 加藤寛『図解 日本の漆工』.東京美術,2014
  • 守屋正彦・田中義恭・伊藤嘉章・加藤寛 監修『日本美術図解事典 普及版』.東京美術,2014
  • 週刊朝日百科『国宝の美 工芸5 漆工 片輪車蒔絵螺鈿手箱』.朝日新聞出版,2010


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