The Tokugawa lords took the shogunate (“shogun” was a military leader) by force in 1603. In order to ensure that no one threatened their power, the Tokugawa rulers enacted strict policies to, in essence, freeze
The merchants and artists spent their newfound wealth on the rich cultural atmosphere of the cities’ theater and red-light districts, as well as on personal adornment. One way around the sumptuary laws (laws restricting luxury dress) was to buy kimonos of a plain cloth on the outside, lined with luxurious, costly silk inside, out of sight. Another way was to acquire costly items such as this inro which were easily concealed. Inro, carried by noble and commoner alike, were a small series (commonly three to six) of nested boxes hanging from the kimono’s obi (sash) by a silk cord. They were made for carrying anything small such as identity seals or medicine. Much like a miniature chest of drawers, the inro boxes were held together by a silk cord that went through holes down one side, under the bottom box, and up the other side.
Ogata Korin was a master painter, known primarily for his stunning six-part screens (byobu). His most famous screens usually depicted close ups of elements of nature, such as irises, cherry blossom branches, or birds, isolated on a background of gold leaf. He also worked in ceramics and lacquer. This inro is similar stylistically to many of his screen painting, with the herons isolated against the gold leaf of the rushes and black lacquer background. The blank background and simplified shapes of grass and birds create a decorative yet descriptive composition.