Tomoko Kikawa-Sanchez

MA work

Lacquer Dowry Goods and the Visual and Material Language of Politics and Display: Dowry Goods in the Edo-period Japan (1603-1868)


During the Edo period (1603–1868) in Japan, elite women, such as the wives of the shogun and those feudal lords who were high-ranking military officers, brought extravagant dowry goods to their marriages.  Most of the items were made of lacquer, and were mainly women’s personal items, in particular those for grooming, education and leisure.  The number of items in a set of dowry goods could reach several hundred.  They were characteristically made of lacquer and gold using the maki-e technique, in matching designs using motifs of scattered family crests, which were integrated into the overall design which featured scenes from Japanese court literature or stylised naturalistic motifs.

It would appear that the dowry goods had both material and symbolic functions and both public and private meanings.  In the public sphere, goods such as the shell-matching games, palanquin and shelves played significant roles in marriage rituals.  They displayed symbolic meanings of marital fidelity and the elite families’ power, wealth, status, and sophistication through lavishly decorated and auspicious motifs associated with the courtly culture of the Heian period (794-1192).  Confucianism and rules of decorum led the elite to pay keen attention to their social position, which in turn established the culture of dowry goods.  Economic circumstances also led to changes in their design.

In the personal sphere, the goods shaped the lives of elite women, and represented their accomplishments and identities, through the functions and meanings of some exemplary items, such as the cosmetics and teeth-blackening sets related to rites of passage, the writing sets and incense implements.  The hina dolls and miniature furniture intended for the Girls’ Festival had meaningful roles in their mother-daughter relationships and also acted as part of the daughters’ education.  The goods also supported women as a valuable economic asset in case of divorce.

Lacquerers developed the production of dowry goods, especially through the Kōami family’s use of innovative methods to improve operational efficiency.  Lacquer was chosen as the most suitable material for dowry goods because of its functional and symbolic qualities, such as durability, water resistance, and the sacred.

The dowry goods of elite families in the Edo period embody this wide range of public and private functions and meanings, which were created by ingenious craftsmen using a highly distinguished material.  The goods form a subject allowing extensive exploration of the material and visual culture of the elite during the Tokugawa shogunate, and future extended research may therefore develop further insights into their materials, manufacture and meanings.

 

Info

  • me4
  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Fine Art

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2014

  • Lacquer Dowry Goods and the Visual and Material Language of Politics and Display: Dowry Goods in the Edo-period Japan (1603-1868)

    During the Edo period (1603–1868) in Japan, elite women, such as the wives of the shogun and those feudal lords who were high-ranking military officers, brought extravagant dowry goods to their marriages.  Most of the items were made of lacquer, and were mainly women’s personal items, in particular those for grooming, education and leisure.  The number of items in a set of dowry goods could reach several hundred.  They were characteristically made of lacquer and gold using the maki-e technique, in matching designs using motifs of scattered family crests, which were integrated into the overall design which featured scenes from Japanese court literature or stylised naturalistic motifs.

    It would appear that the dowry goods had both material and symbolic functions and both public and private meanings.  In the public sphere, goods such as the shell-matching games, palanquin and shelves played significant roles in marriage rituals.  They displayed symbolic meanings of marital fidelity and the elite families’ power, wealth, status, and sophistication through lavishly decorated and auspicious motifs associated with the courtly culture of the Heian period (794-1192).  Confucianism and rules of decorum led the elite to pay keen attention to their social position, which in turn established the culture of dowry goods.  Economic circumstances also led to changes in their design.  

    In the personal sphere, the goods shaped the lives of elite women, and represented their accomplishments and identities, through the functions and meanings of some exemplary items, such as the cosmetics and teeth-blackening sets related to rites of passage, the writing sets and incense implements.  The hina dolls and miniature furniture intended for the Girls’ Festival had meaningful roles in their mother-daughter relationships and also acted as part of the daughters’ education.  The goods also supported women as a valuable economic asset in case of divorce.

    Lacquerers developed the production of dowry goods, especially through the Kōami family’s use of innovative methods to improve operational efficiency.  Lacquer was chosen as the most suitable material for dowry goods because of its functional and symbolic qualities, such as durability, water resistance and the sacred.

    The dowry goods of elite families in the Edo period embody this wide range of public and private functions and meanings, which were created by ingenious craftsmen using a highly distinguished material.  The goods form a subject allowing extensive exploration of the material and visual culture of the elite during the Tokugawa shogunate, and future extended research may therefore develop further insights into their materials, manufacture and meanings.

     

  • Degrees

  • Graduate Certificate History of Art and Architecture, Birkbeck, University of London, 2011 (Title of Dissertation: 'How did Japanese Export Artefacts Influence European Decorative Art from 1549 to 1754?'); Certificate High Renaissance to Baroque: 1500-1720, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011; BA English Literature, Ferris University, Japan
  • Experience

  • Volunteer research assistant, East Asia Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
  • Awards

  • The Anthony Gardner Award, 2012