, 17th century
Black and gold lacquer on wood
10 x 3 3/4 inches (25.4 x 9.5 cm)
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with the Hollis Family Foundation Fund and with funds contributed by the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, Priscilla Grace, Colonel Stephen McCormick, the Honorable Ida Chen, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Graffman, Hannah L. and J. Welles Henderson, 2002
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About This Drum
This lavishly decorated carved wood object is a small hand drum
that was used in Buddhist ceremonies and traditional Japanese
theater. The lacquer artist created a bold design of pear leaves and
fruit in varying shades of gold against a deep black background.
The fruit and veins of the leaves are outlined in thin gold lines
and filled in with a light dusting of gold powder called makie-e
(ma-KI-ee), or "sprinkled picture." In some places, the powder is
applied densely to give a deep gold color, and in other places more
sparsely, showing a soft reddish glow. The designs crowd the surface
of the drum, making it seem much larger than it actually is. Originally, this drum had two circular drumheads made from horsehide pulled tightly against the ends by long cords. Players would hold the drum in their left hand with one end pressed against their right shoulder and strike the opposite end with their right hand. The horsehide drumheads and linen cords of this drum
wore away long ago. The wooden drum itself has been protected
from decay by its surface covering of lacquer, which was made
from the sap of the Japanese Rhus vernicifera
(lacquer) tree. Once
refined to remove impurities, black color was added to the sap, and
then it was applied to the wood surface in many thin layers. Just
before the final layer was dry, the artist set in the gold decorations.
Once dry, lacquer is resistant to water, insects, and other damaging
effects, and gives the drum an elegant, shiny surface.
Drums of this type were used in two different kinds of traditional
Nō is a classical Japanese theater art developed in the fourteenth century combining dance, drama, music, and poetry into a highly
stylized stage art. Nō plays are short, plotless, and tragic in mood.
The actors speak and move extremely slowly. Nō performances
consist of a modest stage and present a main character called shite
a few supporting characters, a chorus, and instrumentalists. All the
elements of the stage work in unity without one dominating the
others. Today, Nō is not a popular theater art among the Japanese,
yet its supporters are enthusiastic and its performers are highly
trained, busy entertaining and teaching throughout the country.
Approximately 1,500 actors make their living largely through
performing and teaching Nō.
Kabuki is a major Japanese urban commercial theater art, founded
in the early seventeenth century. In contrast to Nō, Kabuki
performers present more action on the stage. Kabuki was created
by a woman named Okuni; however, as in Nō, all the roles, male
and female, are performed by male actors. Performers of Kabuki
depend on a popular audience so they constantly create plays with
new stories, music, characters, and costumes to meet the demands
of the times. In Kabuki the plot is heavily emphasized, as well as
the conflicts between characters. Musical instruments like this
hand drum are played on stage and offstage along with percussion,
string instruments, and flutes. The magnificent blend of movement,
music, and drama is still recognized as one of the world’s great
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Japan
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.