This object is a type of tea caddy known as a natsume because of its resemblance to the Jujube fruit (natsume in Japanese). Traditionally, natsume caddies are used to store powdered green tea known as matcha, for the preparation of usucha or thin tea. The first record of such caddies dates back to the 16th century.
Japanese caddies exist in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and this particular form is known as hira-natsume, distinguished by its short, wide body and flattened lid. It is decorated with the Japanese lacquerwork technique of Hiramaki-e. A design is created by sifting powdered gold, silver or copper through fine bamboo tubes onto a wet lacquer surface. The Hiramaki-e ornament depicts maple and cherry trees, growing at opposite ends along the banks of a river. Another lacquerwork technique, known as Nashiji, is used to create the background. Gold or silver flakes are sprinkled onto the surface of the object (excluding the design), onto which lacquer has been applied. Additional layers of lacquer are then applied and burnished with charcoal, so that the gold or silver can be seen through. The name nashiji is thought to have originated from the resemblance that the lacquer bears to the skin of a Japanese pear, nashi. The inside of the cover is similarly lacquered with sprigs of valerian and bell flowers, while the caddy’s base is embellished with a sprig of dandelion.