Asian Art Museum | Education

The best of Asian art at the tip of your fingers for use in the classroom or at home.
Close

Sign up

In My Resources you can save the content you like all in one place. Get started by creating an account.

Create a new account

Inro: Turtles and Crab

Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807-1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Detail of netsuki from Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Detail of  Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Detail of turle's feet from Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

Detail of turle's shell from Inro-Turtles and Crab, approx. 1800-1900. By Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 - 1891). Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1560.

English

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.

You Might Also Like