Kai-awase, made from a relatively large natural clamshell (Jp. hamaguri, Lat. Meretrix lusoria), the interior surfaces of both halves depicting a nearly identical bird-and-flower scene hand-painted in the traditional Yamato-e style, characterized primarily by a predominance of gilt. Late-Edo Period ca. 1850. The actual shell, the two halves of which fit snugly together to form an air-tight container, is in virtually flawless condition, with neither cracks nor chips, while the interior paintings are bright and clear with only minor loss to the gilt at the edges.
Width: 9.0 cm
Depth: 7.2 cm
Height: 4.5 cm
The shell-matching game of kai-awase, requiring full sets of 180 pairs of shells, has a history in Japan extending back to the Heian Period (794-1185). Most kai-awase paintings depict scenes from the Heian-Period literary classic, Genji Monogatari. Bird-and-flower genre scenes, such as that seen in the present example, are also quite common.
Kai-awase dating to the Edo-Period and in fine condition are commonly employed as kogo (incense boxes).