The Momoyama period was a short but critical era in Japanese history. Lasting barely half a century, it was a time of political disunity and intense social chaos during which the established society collapsed and a new culture was born. Social, economic, and political transformations, which under calmer circumstances might well have required a full century or more, occurred with stunning speed.
In the world of design and decoration, the Momoyama period was a time of reconstruction. Many traditional themes were in decline or had already collapsed entirely. A complete rejection of tradition would not have been unnatural under such circumstances, but rather than rejection there occurred a reinterpretation of many classic motifs. In design, new life was breathed into the spirit of tradition.
Among representative crafts of the Momoyama period is the group of gold- and silver-decorated lacquer ware known as Kōdai-ji maki-e (Kōdai-ji temple inlaid lacquer). The name derives from the fact that the pieces were created for use in the Kōdai-ji, the temple built in eastern Kyoto in 1605 by the widow of the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and dedicated to the spirit of her husband. The lacquer decorations in the mausoleum of the temple and the various furnishings made for the temple, as well as other lacquer ware that subsequently adopted the distinctive style, are now known as Kōdai-ji lacquer.
In Hideyoshi's mausoleum, scattered motifs incorporating musical instruments decorate the altar, the