Retired Emperor Kokaku (1771–1840) ordered painters in Kyoto to visualize a well-known phrase meaning virtue, youth, and long life (Tokuwaka ni gobanzai). The artist Shibata Zeshin cleverly visualized this expression by depicting a crab untying a stack of five turtles.
In Japanese, the first part of the phrase, toku wa kani, can be translated as "crab(s) untying." The word go is conveyed by piling up five (go) turtles. The last word, banzai (long life), is expressed through turtles, which are believed to have long lives. A second crab appears on the back of the inro, pulling one end of the cord.