Pipes and smoking sets

From Japan
19th century AD

Tobacco was probably introduced into Japan from the Philippines or Macao in the late sixteenth century, by Spanish or Portuguese merchants. Smoking sets consisted of a pipe with a bowl large enough only for two or three puffs, and a tobacco pouch or box with a netsuke to attach it to the sash. Like here, they were often lavishly decorated. The Tokugawa shogunate often tried, though without much success, to prohibit the use of such expensive items and to ban smoking itself.

The tobacco box (bottom left) is made from two Haliotis shells joined together. They are decorated in makie lacquer with a frog, slug and serpent in high relief. An ivory slug is inlaid on the ebony lid. The box is signed by Shōmōsai, a lacquerer. The accompanying netsuke is also in the form of a frog and is signed by the carver Yoshitada.

The carved wooden pouch, signed Ikko, has a shishi (lion-dog) and peonies on the front and an onagodori (a long-tailed bird) on the back. The metal clasp bears a shishi mask. The pouch is attached to a wooden pipe case carved with stylized dragons among clouds. The metal bowls and mouthpieces of the pipes are also elaborately engraved. The upper pipe has a standing figure of a warrior.

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More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Length: 5.000 cm (netsuke)
Length: 5.000 cm (netsuke)

Museum number

Asia JA 1981.2-3.116;Asia JA 1896.7-6.18.a-d


Tobacco box and netsuke: Gift of Capt. Collingwood Ingram


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