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A Japanese red and black lacquered palanquin or norimono ‘Edo period, early 19th century

A Japanese red and black lacquered palanquin or norimono

Edo period, early 19th century

Made of lacquered wood, latticework and bamboo, black velvet and gauze with gilt scrolling vine decorations, sliding doors and roll-down shutters and engraved copper fittings, with a black lacquered yoke for carrying. It bears mons, emblems identifying Japanese families, at the front and back of the norimono; the gyõyõmon, and more specific the hanagyõyõ (based on the blossoming apricot). Outside Japan intact norimono’s are rare.

H. 95 x L. 125 x W. 78 cm
Length of yoke: 380 cm

A Japanese red and black lacquered palanquin or norimono ‘Edo period, early 19th century d

Transport for the Wealthy
The Tokugawa shogunate strictly regulated all overt symbols of status, wealth, and power, such as dress, furnishings, number of attendants and certainly also the form, decor, materials, and number of bearers of the norimono. In the earlier Heinan period, the privilege of riding in a norimono was reserved to the reigning Emperor and his principal consort. By the beginning of the Edo period, the use of palanquins had increased to such an extent that they were in danger of losing their exalted status as symbols of power and privilege. Still the greater the status of the passenger, the more elaborate the palanquin. The simplest type of palanquin, kago, was merely an undecorated, basket-like, open structure made of bamboo, covered by a roof of matting, and carried by two bearers. More elaborate types of palanquins were made of wood, and the term norimono is used to describe ornate palanquins decorated with lacquer and limited to passengers of high status.


Nabeshima Family

In the Edo period the hanagyõyõ mon on the present norimono belonged to the daimyo Nabeshima family which ruled over the province of Hizen in the area of Saga and Nagasaki prefecture. The Nabeshima family had close connections with Nagasaki where they were appointed by the Shogũn to defend the Nagasaki Bay. With an income of 357.000 Koku, the Nabeshima family belonged to the wealthy and important Tozama-Daimyõ of the Edo 

period. Nabeshima was a side line of the Shõni-clan which after several defeats against the Õuchi and the Rũzõji was in decline and moved to Nabeshima in the province of Hizen where they settled and took the name of the town. In the fight over the dominion of Kyũshũ, Nabeshima sided with the Ryũzõji-clan but were decisively beaten by the rising Shimazu-clan in 1584. In 1587 Nabeshima sided with Toyomoti Hideyoshi during his invasion of Kyũshũ. Hideyoshi granted Nabeshima the region round Saga fief in gratitude. The leader of the family Nabeshima, Naoshige, also joined Hideyoshi in his invasion of Korea, as a commander. After Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, a fight for power ensued in which Nabeshima changed sides, but after the final victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu were able to hold on the fief Saga, one of the richest regions of Japan. As an ally of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Nabeshima was decisive in suppressing the Christian Shimabara revolt in Kyushu in 1637. In the Boshin War of the Meiji uprising, Nabeshima joined the Satsuma- Chõshũ reform party and although they lost their rule over Saga in the Meiji period, they did remain one of the influential families of the so-called Meiji Oligarchy.


A Dutchman in a Norimono

Some form of human-powered transport, be it a litter, sedan chair or palanquin, is almost universal but particularly in Japan the palanquin, norimono, was very common. Because of the limited availability of grazing in this overcrowded and mountainous country, severe restrictions were placed upon the use of horses for other than military purposes.

Between 1641 and 1860 the VOC was the only European company allowed in Japan. Like all the local Japanese daimyo, the Dutch yearly had to make a voyage from their settlement in the bay of Nagasaki to the court of the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo) to pay their respect and bring presents from the West. This was the only time in the year the Dutch were allowed off their small island of Deshima. They travelled in norimonos like the present one, carried by two or four men. Franz von Siebold described his journey in a norimono: “in such a palanquin the traveller sits on a flat floor covered with mats, bear- or tiger skins. The Japanese are used, from childhood on, to sit on their folded legs. With us only small persons can do so, but for larger persons to sit like that all day in a palanquin is torture!”

After Blomhoff had sent a miniature norimono to the Netherlands for the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, as part of a complete series of 110 model items depicting the court journey train, his successor as Dutch Opperhoofd in Japan, Johan Willem de Stürler (1774- 1855) in 1834 sent the norimono he travelled into the Netherlands, which now is in the collection of the Museum of World Cultures Leiden (inv. 360-5189). Stürler, as military man involved in one of the battles against France, was injured at his hip and as a result, had difficulties bending one of his legs. Therefore, the norimono that Stürler sent has a hole cut in the foot end so he could stretch his wounded leg. Unlike Siebold, Blomhoff found travelling in a norimono very comfortable although he did say he sometimes descended to stretch his legs during the daily eight-hour journey. A copperplate engraving from Gedenckwaerdige Gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maatschappy in’t Vereenigde Nederland aen de Kaisaren van Japan, Getrokken uit de Geschriften en Reisaentekeninge der zelver Gesanten, by Arnoldus Montanus, publ. Jacob van Meurs, Amsterdam 1669, shows the procession of the Dutch Opperhoofd on his court journey in a palanquin like the present one (see, Uit Verre Streken, November 2018, item 57). Throughout the Edo period the basic form of the palanquins changed very little. Following the resignation of the last Tokugawa shogun in 1867, there ensued a rapid transformation of
the Japanese society. Palanquins, the elite conveyances of the Tokugawa shogunate, were quickly displaced by horse-drawn carriages fashioned after European models and by the jinrikisha, a wheeled vehicle pulled by one man. Few norimono survived intact.

Norimono in Europe

Immediately after the end of the sakoku policy of the closed country and the opening of Japan to the world, the Danish ambassador in Hong Kong, Mr. Block, in 1860 acquired a true norimono for the Royal Ethnographic Museum in Copenhagen, now in the Japanese Department of the National Museum in Copenhagen. A few more were imported into European collections but many of them were either adapted to be used as exotic chairs, as playhouses for children or withered away in barns. Outside Japan an intact one like the present norimono is rare. Only the textile in the windows and the ropes in the bamboo shutters had to be replaced with (original) gauze and ropes from Japan.

A Japanese red and black lacquered palanquin or norimono ‘Edo period, early 19th century d
A Japanese red and black lacquered palanquin or norimono ‘Edo period, early 19th century b
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