Exceptionally beautiful Japanese lacquer box with a small doll, mame (pea sized) Ichimatsu nigyo (doll) inside - she actually is 4 ½” tall. This must have been some girl's (or woman’s) treasure box years ago. It may have been a gift from her mother or grandmother. The lacquer box is decorated with auspicious designs; a long tailed turtle emerging from a stream, pine, bamboo and rocks on the bank with a crane flying above. The combination of pines, bamboos and plums (painted in inside) together is called sho-chiku-bai which is the most auspicious sign of all in Japan. The combination of crane and turtle symbolize the wishing for the well being and long life of the family.
The decoration on the box is done in tones of gold with some silver on a roiro ground, the rocks in takamakie (raised gold) with kirikane (square gold foil) inlay, nashiji (pear skin) interior, silver rings (tarnished) and mounts. Inside metal caps are also silver. There is a small damage on the left corner bottom (shown in the photo), a small chip in the opening of lid (shown in photo) and very small hairline on the top left corner side of the lid (hardly visible).
The doll is almost in perfect shape except that the hair on one side on the back is almost missing. Her kimono shows slightly more soil and looks older than shown in the photos, inside her mouth is hallow and shows her teeth. The writing on the outer wood box is "Kyo (Kyoto) Ningyo (doll)." The lacquer box is light and has the feel of quality wood inside. We date the box for late Edo to early Meiji period. The doll may be newer, Meiji to Taisho period. The measurements of the lacquer box are 9 1/2" x 3 5/8" x 2", the doll is 4 1/2" toll, Meiji to Taisho period.
IN ADDITION: There is a set of lacquer furniture along with a small fumibako (fubako - document box) like this at the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya (old name Owari), Japan. The set is called ‘Hatsune (first voice, sound) no Chodo (furniture)’ and is designated as a National Treasure. The name came from the Tale of Genji, chapter "Hatsune" (The Warbler’s First). Most of furniture (75 pieces) is decorated with a design taken from a scene in Hatsune. The furniture was made for Princess Chiyo, the eldest daughter of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, as a wedding gift. The amazing thing here is not only the exceptional quality of the lacquer work but the age of the bride as well. Shogun Iemitsu placed an order for the furniture as part of her bridal trousseau as soon as she was born (1638). She became a wife at the age of three (precisely 2 years and 6 months old). This was a politically arranged marriage for sure. Considering this, dolls may well have been a part of the bridal trousseau during the Edo period, probably was a mother’s love - the least she could do for her daughter. This custom of pre arranged marriage between families, which lasted for a long period of time, somehow gave a story to the box that we offer here. The doll placed in the lacquer box in this quality could mean deeper to someone. Or the doll could be added later and given to a daughter in later years.