This box with its pretty pink bell design is from Hakocho, a shop in Asakusa specializing in paulownia kimekomizaiku. Kimekomezaiku is the Japanese craft of carving an image on paulownia wood and embedding beautiful, colorful cloth in the carved-out areas.
Kiri (paulownia) brings Kiritsubo, the mother of Hikaru Genji to mind. A tree native to China, and as references to it in Genji Monogatari (like the one above), Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book) and other Heian Period (794 – 1185) literature bear out, it is a tree with a long history also in Japan. The wood has many favorable characteristics. It is light, repels insects, has high temperature and humidity resistance and very low shrinkage values. As a material that is extremely easy to work with and lends itself to high-precision processing, it has, especially, since the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) become the favorite material in Japan for making boxes and cabinets for storing valuable items.
Hakocho makes a wide variety of products with embedded designs. Paulownia wood is naturally white, but like the box in the picture, it can be seared to pop the woodgrain giving it the texture of the box in the picture. While a white paulownia box is also attractive, a searing makes dust and dirt less noticeable. Hand mirrors, like the round mirror in the photo, are meant to be handled, and with all the processing it is accorded you know it can be safely tucked away in your handbag to be used on the go when needed. The plum design on the red ball with its slightly subdued color is a favorite of mine.
The shop on Asakusa Orenji St. is filled with kimekomizaiku items leaving little space for anything else. They also stock smaller items such as boxes for trinkets, picture frames or sewing boxes you can take overseas as souvenirs. Larger items like cabinets and chests of drawers are also available. There are a wide variety of mirrors from hand mirrors to dressing tables. Pillar mirrors are long mirrors such as two-way mirrors and three-way mirrors intended for installation on pillars or walls. Beautifully designed, they are great mirrors and as excellently crafted Japanese interior features, they will enhance any domestic environment. If you ever go to Asakusa, Hakocho is well worth a visit.
(Translated by K.B.)