Japan and its history through the cigarette case scenes Chinese poetry in works of Yotsuya Masami Yotsuya Masami was born on January 5, 1876. He studied at the metal engraving department of the Tokyo Fine Arts School. During his studies Masami came to see the work of Kano Natsuo, a famous Japanese engraver, who was a professor at the Tokyo Fine Arts School at the time. Masami studied painting under Kawabata Gyokusho, drawing under Mizuno Ume and poetry under Matsumura Koto.
After graduating Yotsuya Masami opened his own studio in which he produced a large variety of metalworks: vases, okimono, miniature Butsudan shrines, silver wall pictures and panels, plates and dishes, incense burners, cigarette cases, belt buckles, cuff links and more. There was a destinctive characteristic that was shared by many of the Masami's works - his passion for poetry. It became his trademark. Masami carved short passages from famous poems on his works, connecting between visual, material art of carving and spiritual, linguistic art of poetry and calligraphy.
A few examples of cigarette cases, carved by Masami, are provided below with a reference to the relevant poems and their authors.

"New Cicada" by Kou Zhun

Kou Zhun (寇準, 961~1023) was a much-praised official and poet in ancient China's Northern Song Dynasty. Kou Zhun became a jinshi (進士) after passing the imperial examination in 979. Kou Zhun was a great speaker and had a reputation of offering criticism as he saw fit. Once, Emperor Taizong got offended and decided to leave, but Kou Zhun grabbed his robe and forced him to sit down and finish listening.
Kou Zhun wrote his first poem when he was seven years old. The style of his poetry is close to that of the late Tang Dynasty poetry school. Kou Zhun wrote more than 300 poems during his life. Fifty of them clearly show Zhun's nostalgic feelings for his homeland.
In his poem "New Cicada" Kou Zhun pictures a pagoda tree in a rainy, windy day, on which, despite the weather, a cicada starts buzzing:
The pagoda tree in the silent palace is clear in the rain,
and the setting sun illuminates the branches.
The sad autumn thoughts suddenly rise in the wind,
and the first sound of the new cicada is heard.
A slightly modified version of the poem had been later used by artists, mostly painters. The difference appears in the poem's first four characters, where "寂寂宫槐" is replaced by "柳色参差". That is, a "pagoda tree in a silent palace" was changed to "brightness and darkness overlap on the willow".
Brightness and darkness overlap on the willow in the rain,
and the setting sun illuminates the branches.
The sad autumn thoughts suddenly rise in the wind,
and the first sound of the new cicada is heard.
The reason for such an adoption is unknown. Perhaps, artists found it more appropriate and poetic to draw willows instead of pagoda trees. Nevertheless, it is the adopted version that appears on many watercolor paintings of Chinese and Japanese artists.

Paintings (ink on paper) by Chinese painters Wang Hunian (王隺年, left) and Mei Fen (梅芬, right), showing the cicada and accompanied by the calligraphic writing of the poem. Early 20th century.

In 1820 Mori Shunkei (森春渓, active 1800~1820), a painter from Osaka and a pupil of Sosen Mori (1747~1821), published his famous e-hon (illustrated book) Chuka Senzen (肘下選蠕, "Selected Insects from Close at Hand"). A few years later, a calligrapher, poet, seal carver and Confucian scholar Shinozaki Shochiku (篠崎小竹) matched the paintings from the Chuka Senzen with poems and supplied the book with their calligraphic writings. Notably, here Shochiku used the original version of the poem.

Top: A painting from the "Selected Insects from Close at Hand" book by Mori Shunkei with the calligraphic writing of the "New Cicada" poem supplied by Shinozaki Shochiku. Bottom: a cigarette case by Yotsuya Masami with the cicada sitting on the willow tree and a poem (author's collection).

The scene on the shibuichi cigarette case by Masami, shown above, is presumably based on the Cicada on Willow Tree woodblock print by a Japanese painter Shoson (Ohara Koson, 1877~1945). The case is inlayed with gold (cicada, maker's mark) and carved in the metal (willow tree, the poem).
More images of the cigarette case can be found here.

"Crab" by Lang Baochen

Lang Baochen (郎葆辰, 1763~1839) was born in Anji (安吉), Zhejiang (浙江) province, China, under the name of Fuyan (福延). He is also known under the names of Suifeng (遂峯), Wentai (文台), Sumen (苏门) and Taohuashan (桃花山). In 1817 Lang Baochen, a jinshi at the time, was promoted to a censor of the Hanlin Academy, a membership in which was confined to an elite group of scholars, who performed secretarial and literary tasks for the court.
Lang Baochen was a master of poetry, calligraphy and painting. He was famous all over the world for his ink paintings of crabs, which soon became his trademark. The crabs in his works had both shape and spirit, and were often accompanied by short poems written in calligraphy. The blend of painting and poetry added a lot of charm to these crab paintings. For his paintings Lang Baochen was called the "Lang Crab", aka the "Crabman" (Lang, , in Chinese means "man", "male adult").

Left: Ink painting of several crabs by Lang Baochen, with a poem written in calligraphy at the top-right corner of the scroll. Right: The enlarged section containing the poem.

The poem inscribed on the painting above is:
Unrestrained he travels countless lakes and rivers,
from a reed's green bud in spring to its flower in autumn shiver.
With eyes that for an entire life never close,
he witnesses all the streams flow in limpid and turbid water.
and is the one that was used by Yotsuya Masami on his carved cigarette case below.

Top: Another painting of Lang Baochen, depicting a pair of crabs. Bottom: a cigarette case by Yotsuya Masami with the carved scene of two crabs and the poem (author's collection).

The silver cigarette case by Masami, shown above, is carved in the metal (crabs, the poem) and is inlayed with gold (crab's eyes, maker's mark).
More images of the cigarette case can be found here.

"After a Poem of Cao" by Ni Zan

Ni Zan (倪瓚, 1301~1374) was a Chinese painter and poet during the Yuan and early Ming periods. Along with Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, and Wang Meng, he is considered to be one of the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty.
Ni Zan was born into an elite family who could afford the cost of a rigorous Confucian education for him in spite of the unavailability of high-paying governmental jobs that traditionally were the reward for such an education. He was one of a number of wealthy scholars and poets who were part of a movement that radically altered traditional conceptions of Chinese painting. Their paintings depicted representations of natural settings that were highly localized, portraying personally valued vistas that reflected their individual feelings.
Ni Zan's poem "次韵曹都水" ("After a Poem of Cao") is a melancholic picture of author listening to the rain while making the tea. The 次韵 is a type of poems written after another poem while using the exactly same rhyming structure. The 曹 is a family name (Cao) and 都水 is an official government position with responsibility over water conservancy projects, like dams, water towers, etc.
The poem itself is:
Lighting up the room I stay for this cold night,
with layers of felt carpet the small bed in heavy cover.
Beside an empty desk I listen to rainfall in outside dark,
sense none but bamboo forest in white fog and boiling tea flavor.
The earliest written record of tea ceremonies emerged during the Tang Dynasty over 1200 years ago in China. It was initially called cha dao (茶道) or the way of tea. It is not surprising that the poem was often associated with tea ceremony.

A cigarette case by Yotsuya Masami with the second half of the poem carved on the backside.

The silver cigarette case by Masami, shown above, is carved in the metal (girl, the poem, stove, teapot and tuanshan) and is inlayed with gold (tuanshan, earring).
More images of the cigarette case can be found here.