Past Exhibitions

The Perfect Pair: Shell-Matching Game Sets
February 8, 2022 - March 13, 2022

The shell-matching game (kai awase or kaio'oi) was a popular pastime among aristocrats beginning from the Heian period (794–1185). The two halves of a clamshell share the same surface patterns and cannot be perfectly matched with other shells, so the goal of this game was to identify the most matching pairs. Players could verify the match by looking at the paintings on the inside surfaces. Over time, the left and right shells came to be stored separately in large hexagonal boxes called kaioke. These sets of shells and boxes were incorporated into the highly ritualized marriage ceremonies of the ruling military class, serving as symbols of fidelity and marital union. Elaborate boxes decorated in lacquer and makie (sprinkled metallic powder) with the designs of family crests were thus particularly indispensable and highly symbolic components of a bride's wedding trousseau. Enjoy this display of elegant game sets that offer a window into the lives and hopes of newlyweds of early modern Japan.

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