Tsuchiya Yasuchika (1670-1744)
Nara, circa 1720
A rectangular suzuribako, the lid with a design of Shoki (Ch. Zhong Kui), who stands in a rocky landscape holding an open book. Tall bamboo grows up behind him, the tops partly obscured by clouds of mist. The scholar is dressed in simple robes, a wide-brimmed hat shades his head and on his feet he wears geta sandals. His demeanour is one of contented humility. Despite studying tirelessly for his exams to enter the civil service he failed, some versions of the legend reporting that the emperor rejected him because he was ugly. In despair he took his own life, only for the emperor to feel remorse and grant him an official burial. Shoki’s spirit repaid this honour by vowing to serve the emperor by ridding the country of demons. In Japanese tradition this usually results in gentle humour, showing him plagued by impish oni.
Sentoku (copper alloy) with details in gold and shakudo . The box is made of sugi (Japanese cedar) and the inside lacquered black. The rectangular suzuri (inkstone) depicts clouds above rocks and waves, while the suiteki (water dropper) is in the form of a gilt metal pauwlonia mon. Pauwlonia was considered very felicitous in China, where it was believed that phoenixes dwelt in its branches, and in Japan was used as the crest of government.
This suzuribako can be compared with another in the collection of the Nezu museum, of similar form and size, the Nezu example has metalwork by Tuschiya Yasuchika I, while the inner surface of the lid is lacquered by Ogawa Haritsu (1663-1747). The Nezu piece was formerly in the collection of Lord Tsugaru Nobuhisa, 4th daimyō of the Hirosaki domain. Cf.: nezu-muse.or.jp (collection highlights, lacquer)
Although there were at least seven generations of metal carvers of this name, it was Yasuchika I who used the seal Tou. In addition, close comparison with the Nezu collection suzuribako seems to confirm the present example’s dating to that of the first Yasuchika.