In Shinto, it is believed that renewing the shrine where the deity resides along with all the furnishing and utensils is to restore life force to that deity. This is why deities are periodically installed in a new shrine and given new sacred objects.
An entry in Kumanosan Shingū shinpō mokuroku (Inventory of Shrine Treasures at the shrines in the Kumano mountains; Edo-period copy in the Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine with postscript, dated 1390 [Meitoku 1]), records this box as one of thirteen toiletry cases donated to Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine (Wakayama prefecture) by the emperor, the retired emperor, the Muromachi shogun (Ashikaga Yoshimitsu), and various local lords. Handed down as one of the sacred treasures of Asuka Shrine, a subsidiary shrine of Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine, it was acquired by the Japanese government in modern times. Among the items belonging to the group, the Kyoto National Museum also stores other lacquered pieces in makie (sprinkled metal design) including boxes for a crown, an official’s wooden sceptre (shaku), robes, shoes, and a clothes rack.
The case contains two nested boxes; the larger is lined with brocade and the smaller decorated with makie. Inside are gold and silverplated bronze items: boxes for incense articles, tooth-blackening utensils, white-face powder, chrysanthemum-shaped dishes, scissors, tweezers, brushes for blackening teeth, eyebrow brushes, ear picks, hairpins, a brush for cleaning combs, and a wide-toothed comb. In addition, it holds a white porcelain dish, a nickel mirror, and a makie comb case containing twenty-nine combs. Although made as offerings to the gods, we can assume that these pieces reflect the cosmetic items used by the medieval aristocracy.
The toiletry case, comb case, and their contentsare all decorated with pine and camellia trees growing on mounds of earth. As symbols of vitality, evergreen trees were often used as motifs on votive items. This toiletry set is fabulously elaborate, the outside of the case decorated with highly-skilled techniques like raised-gold decoration (kintakamakie) on a pear-skin ground of densely-sprinkled particles (tsume nashiji), burnished decoration (togidashi makie), in which a design is revealed by polishing through upper layers of lacquer, aokin kanagai (thin inlaid sheets of cut silver-gold), and tiny silver rivets.