Tomobako – Accompanying Boxes

Tomobako is the name for the wooden boxes in which Japanese artworks, ranging from paintings, small sculptures, ceramics, porcelains and lacquer works are stored. They consist of a wooden body and a lid held together by a woven or braided ribbon. 

The boxes are usually made of either two basic materials: one is cedar and the other is paulownia wood. Sometimes boxes are made of materials like chestnut (tochinoki), mulberry (kuwa), rosewood (shitan), ebony (kokutan) or ironwood (tagayasan).

It is also known as the “princess tree.” It was once customary to plant a Paulownia tree when a baby girl was born, and then to make it into a dresser as a wedding present when she married. 

While the Japanese do not consider this tree sacred, the wood is held in reverence by those who work with the tree, possibly due to the ability of the tree to regenerate from its own root. This, coupled with its resistance to rot and its freedom from warping and cracking, may account for this reverence. So, one can see the tomobako is made from a special kind of tree.

To hold the box and the lid closely together a string is used, which is knotted above the lid in a slip knot (himokake 紐掛け). It was once round, but since the beginning Edo Period (1603-1868) a flat cotton string (sanada-himo 真田紐) is most common.