Japan has a long and colorful history of dining communally outside, with a culture of intricately painted boxes specifically made for the enjoyment of food in the fresh air with friends and family.
This porcelain stacked picnic box (Jūbako) from the New Orleans Museum of Art's collection is part of this rich tradition of celebratory meals for picnics, birthdays and holidays.
Jūbako often hold takeaway lunches (bento) or serve osechi, foods traditional to the Japanese New Year. The box could have been filled with anything from Kamaboko (a popular broiled fish cake) to Ebi (skewered prawns).
Popularized by the Japanese upper middle class, elaborate and expensive picnic boxes served as both a functional tool for eating outside and as a status symbol.
In addition, the intricate designs and symbolism on the Jūbako could often inspire conversation between diners.
This Jūbako, made sometime in the late 19th century, represents hundreds of years of ceramic tradition. It is an exquisite example of porcelain in the Imari type, which involved heavy use of cobalt blue, orange and white designs with circular ornamental designs and often densely decorated with bold motifs including bamboo, koi, flowers and dragons. This particular Imari example shows a bright green dragon on each of the four tiers and lid with flowers and naturalistic elements all around.
You can find this outstanding picnic box on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art in an installation of 90 objects related to dining culture in the Café NOMA restaurant by Ralph Brennan.