(This is “art” stuff. For the Chopin Competition coverage, scroll down).
Like the title says.
An inrō is a traditional Japanese case for holding small objects. Because traditional Japanese garb lacked pockets, objects were often carried by hanging them from the obi, or sash. Most types of these sagemono were created for specialized contents, such as tobacco, pipes, writing brush and ink, but inrō were suited for carrying anything small. Consisting of a stack of tiny, nested boxes, inrō were most commonly used to carry identity seals and medicines. The stack of boxes is held together by a cord that runs through cord runners down one side, under the bottom, and up the opposite side. The ends of the cord are secured to a netsuke, a kind of toggle that is passed between the sash and pants and then hooked over the top of the sash to suspend the inrō. An ojime is provided on the cord between the inrō and netsuke to hold the boxes together. This is a bead with a hole through the center through which the cord is passed. It is slid down to the top of the inrō to hold the stack together while the inrō is worn, and slid up next to the netsuke when the boxes need to be unstacked to access their contents. Inrō were made of a variety of materials, including wood, ivory, bone, and lacquer. Lacquer was also used to decorate inro made of other materials.
Inrō, like the ojime and netsuke they were associated with, evolved over time from strictly utilitarian articles into objects of high art and immense craftsmanship.
A good illustration of inro anatomy is here.
They still make lacquer-ware in Japan; the quality is good and prices, though high, lower than what you’d pay for comparable old pieces. Many designs are “modern” — like this one, using color and hardly ever any gold dust. I am not a modern man, but this design I do like.
You may browse a few of their expensive pieces here. If you do not read Japanese, do not despair: just click the link in the lower right hand corner under each piece you like (just above the thin gray dividing line which separates it from the next entry). That will take you to the piece’s own dedicated page where you will see dimensions and prices (in Japanese yen) given in western (“arabic”) numerals. They will stand out since they will be the only things you can read. Anyway, it’s all about looking at the pictures.
The front page is kind of cool, too: check out the profiles of the artists.