This is a Japanese lacquer sculptured compote (makie takatsuki) dating from the late Meiji period, circa 1890-1915. The compote has a black roiro lacquer ground over the entire raised tray. On the top it is decorated with flecks of gold takamakie decoration and a design of an Okina Noh mask in high relief, very finely done . The compote measures 8 3/16” high x 10 1/8” - the round foot is 3 1/2" diameter. There is one small nick on the top rim at about 2:00 o’clock in the photo and a rubbed scratch on the base - not visible when seated. It is in excellent condition otherwise. The Noh drama mask portrays Okina, an old man with tufts of hair on the cheeks and forehead - it used in the Sambaso dance; usually as part of a New Years celebration.
Among all Noh masks, the Okina (old man) mask is considered particularly sacred and has been at times treated as the embodiment of god, bringing longevity and prosperity to families. In the first Japanese dynasty, during the 3rd and 4th centuries, the Yamato Chotei (kingdom) unified the districts. During that time the district lords dedicated the Kagura play to prove their hearts were submissive. When the lords expressed their greetings to the Yamato Emperor, it became the source of the Okina play. The Okina mask is the oldest of the Noh masks. The rounded eyebrow and the separated chin makes it different from the other Noh masks.
One of the most interesting events in Japan is the New Year’s Noh Drama performance of Okina and it is performed in many parts of the country. The New Year is probably the most important festivity of the year in Japan, and people use it to pay their visit Shinto shrines (but actually Buddhist temples, too) for what is called 初詣, or ‘first pilgrimage’. Okina is a special performance that does not belong to the 5 ‘regular’ categories, but it is considered a sort of primal performance, although several critics see it as a form of ‘invented tradition’ part of the program of national resurrection that began during the mid/late Meiji period.