Jizai Okimono

A russet-iron articulated figure of a hermit crab

Myōchin school, Edo Period

18th-19th century

Length: 19.5 cm


With a large, realistically rendered, spiralling top shell, the iron hermit crab is constructed of numerous hammered plates, jointed inside the body; the claws open, the body bends and the eyes, antennae and limbs move.

The earliest known jizai okimono is a dragon with Myōchin Muneaki's signature and a date of 1713. The Myōchin were armor makers who excelled in iron forging and hammer work. They are believed to have created jizai okimono during the peaceful mid-Edo period. Actuality, the Myōchin artists began producing various forged iron objects such tea ceremony kettles, boxes, sword guards, and jizai okimono as the need for armor fell off significantly under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Jizai okimono are realistically shaped figures of animals. Their bodies and limbs are articulated, and can be moved like real animals. Among these figures, we can find models of dragons, birds, fishes, snakes, lobsters, crabs and insects. Jizai okimono of hermit crabs are extremely rare. Whilst  this is unsigned, an almost identical hermit crab is in the collection of the Higgins Armory Museum (USA), signed “Myōchin”.

"Jizai okimono" appears to be a relatively recent term: The artist Itao Shinjiro displayed an articulated item at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition that was referred to as kusshin jizai tsubasa no okimono (an okimono with wings that move in and out freely). The word jizai is used in this context once more on the storage box for an articulated dragon that the Tokyo National Museum purchased in 1911. The only known Edo-period box inscription referring to one (a small dragon) calls it a bunchin (paperweight).


Inventory Nr: 1841

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