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Japanese Art – Jubako boxes

Japanese jubako boxes are stackable, tiered food containers which are usually modelled in either square or cylindrical form. Jubako containers on average consist of three to five layers and are made of either lacquered wood or porcelain.

A brief history

Jubako boxes first appeared during the Japanese Muromachi period (1333 – 1573). Initially they were used as a convenient way to serve individual meals at a banquet. However, they later became a convenient, functional food storage item particularly used during the New Year season when social and family obligations became paramount meaning less time was available to spend cooking.

Hanami-ju and Sage-ju

In later periods, jubako boxes often became integrated into portable carrying frames known as either Hanami-ju or Sage-ju, both of which are practically identical other than the social setting they were incorporated within. Both Hanami-ju and Sage-ju designs were refined and popularised during the Edo period (1614 – 1868) at a time when leisurely pursuits became increasingly popular. Sage-ju boxes were utilised for more general occasions when both outdoor activities and eating would be combined while Hanami-ju (also known as ‘flower viewing’ boxes) were used predominantly during the April period when an old pastime, initially started by the Emperor Saga in 812 which involved viewing cherry blossoms, became more commonly popular.

Cherry orchards

Japanese people from all social levels would dress in their finest clothing to visit the blossoming cherry orchards and eat and drink to the accompaniment of music and dance. Through this pastime came the creation of a wide variety of both innovative and aesthetically exquisite jubako containers, often incorporating drinking vessels, trays and further draws.

Painted lacquer

Although some jubako boxes were made in blue and white painted porcelain, generally the most desirable jubako boxes are the beautifully painted lacquer examples with lavishly decorated exteriors, often inlaid with further decoration. An example is pictured above and more details of this particular box can be seen here.

If you have any Japanese jubako boxes that you would like to sell or have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, Asian art specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent for further details.