Inspiration and objects of comparison from Japan

The last 500 km of the court journey Fisscher, Blomhoff and their entourage travelled the Tôkaidô, the most important road connecting the two capital cities of Japan, Kyôto and Edo. The Tôkaidô passes through Hakone Mountains and the city Hakone, which also served as a major control post, the hakone sekisho, securing the city of Edo. With its exposed location on that road, Hakone inhabitants witnessed the most divers ideas and Weltanschauungen on one hand and – more important for this research – most varied expressions of material culture throughout the centuries.

In the 12th ct., when Japan experiences a remarkable revivification of Buddhism, the founders of new Buddhist schools travel the archipelago and thus the Tôkaidô (Collcut 1988, p. 146), not only diffusing their new spiritual ideas but also triggering a different, purer way of designing material goods, which is very well visible in the items used and surrounding tea ceremony.

In Edo Period the daimyôs or their retinues commute the road to Edo and back to their domain. And even though the bakufu restricts travel, merchants on their way to the large market Edo pass Hakone and circumjacent villages.

fig9: exotic shop detail

Fig. 9: Exotic shop Detail in: Bridging the Divide. 400 Years. The Netherlands – Japan

Another source of inspiration provide karamonoya or tômotsuya (exotica shops), shown in Takehara Shunchôsai’s (1800) “Illustrated Famous Places in Settsu Providence” (Oka 2000, p. 245ff). Next to an electrifying machine, Chinese vases, dolls and Western glassware are on display in this shop for imported goods. Those shops were famous and worth a visit to artists of many disciplines.

And obviously the representatives of the Dutch kingdom and their entourage travel the Tôkaidô every second or forth year, which probably allows an incidental exchange.

Furthermore, the synergy between Japanese craftsmen should not be underestimated. Taking a closer look at the neighbouring province Suruga, where craftsmen made their mark in Edo period with the production of intriguing bamboo baskets. The Suruga basketry’s artisans too profited from the busy Tôkaidô, as they made souvenirs such as insect cages and confectionery containers to sell to the travellers (Durston, 1996, p. 104). Their speciality was the usage of round[5], often bended bamboo strips to connect round bamboo rims and thus form a container. Considering that the goblet’s craftsman was proficient in his field and easily adapted different techniques and styles, he might have been inspired by this light, filigree look and thus added above mentioned loops upon body and lid, even though those loops – just as the rest of the plaiting of the goblet – are formed from flat bamboo strips.

Being located close to the Tôkaidô in the Hakone Mountains, the artisan of the goblet not only has a market on hand but also the chance of getting in touch with different perceptions of fashion or style and manufacturing details.

Inspiration for the chalice’s special shape is still difficult to trace. The combination of sophisticated workmanship in weaving bamboo and lacquering, the function and on top of that the form is unique.

fig10: footed basket for religious ceremony

Fig. 10: Footed, lidded basket for religious ceremony (Cat. 135) in: Kaneko, K. Modern Bamboo Craft

fig11: blomhoffs serving bowl

Fig. 11: Serving Bowl (Cat. 50) in: Kinnen, E. (ed.) Edo no kogai. An exhibition of Japanese crafts focusing on the Jan Cock Blomhoff Collection


Japanese hand drums and also containers used in religious ceremony are not standing to reason. Their shape is usually more symmetrical and not as fluent as the goblet’s. Separate pieces of woven bamboo are attached to each other to form foot, stem, bowl and lid. That is different to our goblet, where foot, stem and bowl merge into each other due to the tate higo that run vertically over the full length of the container.

But the collection Blomhoff’s includes another indigenous container that may be comparable in terms of form and function. It involves a serving bowl on a high, but wide foot, with handles and a lid. But for all that, plaiting technique, decoration and the wide, comparably portly shape differ in such a way that further study on that object seems not expedient.


Next: Inspiration and objects of comparison from other parts of Asia


[5] instead of flat ones, that are most common in Japanese basketry


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