Mimidarai

Early Edo period, 17th century

Wooden basin with ear-shaped handles decorated with hiramaki-e lacquer and gold and silver kirigane on a nashi-ji ground

32 x 27 x 15 cm 

 

The large and thick antique wooden basin is completely lacquered in nashiji gold, with cranes flying among pines, bamboo and orange trees. The overall design and the gilt metal fittings include also the umebachi family crest, in the variation used by the Maeda clan. The designs on the lacquered surface and on the fittings are both typical of the early part of the Edo period (1615-1867).

The mimidarai, literally “eared basin” due to the handles’ shape, was part of a larger teeth blackening set. Teeth blackening (ohaguro) using black ink was a common practice in Japan among women of wealthy families since ancient times. For a while, it became a trend also for men, but during the Edo period, it was again popular only among the female population, where it was a sign of marriage for women of all social classes.

 

Featured in this antique heishi are four longevity symbols that express the universal wish for a long, healthy life.

The pine tree is one of the most common symbols of longevity in East Asia. Because it remains green even in the harshest winters, it stands for resilience, endurance, and strength against adversity. 

Cranes live a long time, some species as long as eighty years. In some Asian folktales, they are said to live as long as five hundred years. Cranes mate for life, and therefore symbolize harmony, a wish for a long marriage, and respect for one’s parents and ancestors. 

Turtles are noted for their long lifespan. In addition, with their dome-shaped upper shell, flat lower shell, and legs in the four corners of their bodies, they were early emblems of the universe and the cardinal directions. 

Bamboo is one of the most versatile and abundant materials in East Asia, eaten by both humans and animals and used to make everything from houses to paper. It remains green throughout the four seasons and therefore symbolizes long life. Because it bends rather than breaks, bamboo also represents resilience, and its simple shape, humility. According to Confucian ideology, bamboo possesses the qualities of a great scholar: humility, uprightness, the flexibility of mind, and grace.

Antique Japanese lacquer mimidarai for sale. Price on application. Please include item stock number: lacc-1179

 

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