Some books are their own gorgeous gift boxes; so beautiful it hardly matters what content they might offer. You want just to hold them, idly turn a page. Such is the case with this book from Barbara Pope Book Design based on a 1996 Honolulu Academy of Arts exhibit of suzuribako, meaning “ink stone box,” or “writing box.” These boxes held the implements–inkstone, ink stick, water dripper, paperweight and so on–for creating calligraphy (correspondence to artwork, poetry to official proclamations). But the boxes themselves are artworks. They are decorated with a lacquer made from urushi, a tree resin, so finicky the only colorings that could be used were the finest–gold, silver, cinnabar, a certain type of charcoal–and so delicate it had to be applied in hundredths of an inch. The picture stories on the boxes are, as is all Japanese literature, highly referential; if you know the poem, you know why the plovers fly across the lid. If you don’t (as most won’t, who see this precious collection), you are still amazed.
Japanese Lacquer Writing Boxes,
By Stephen Little and Edmund J. Lewis.
UH Press, 2011