I found this set of go bowls shown in a Japanese auction and was fascinated by the idea that someone had crafted coconut shells into go bowls and moreover decorated these using maki-e lacquer techniques. The artist painted one bowl with a lotus plant and the other with two dragonflies dancing around. Mother of pearl is used for the eyes of the dragonflies and the fine details are painstakingly interpretated such as the structures of the wings and the hair strands on the bodies of the dragonflies. So much effort was put into making these lively looking dragonflies.
Wikipedia tells us that “in the classical written and oral literature of many Asian cultures the lotus is present in figurative form, representing elegance, beauty, perfection, purity and grace.” And in Japan dragonflies are symbols of courage, strength, and happiness. Seems to be well-fitting symbolism for the game of go as well.
As to the history of this set, we see that the writing on the wooden box tells us that this set was made in Osaka in 1938 (昭和13) for the family of Hizen Matsui 肥前松井家蔵. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure if there is any importance attached to this family though as I couldn’t find much else about them. There seems to an artist signature on the bowls and a different signature in the box for the maker. I would guess that the one on the bowls is the name of the maki-e artist while the one on the box is perhaps the name of the proprietor of the shop which designed and made this set.
Even though there is a crack on the side of one of the bowls and one of the dragonfly is missing an eye, the bowls are still quite beautiful and unusual. Maybe the seller couldn’t bear to part with this set at the last minute as the offer seems to have been withdrawn from the auction during the last moments. But thankfully I was able to capture and preserve the wonderful pictures for this blog entry.