Ship’s tansu were a ship’s safe, desks, and clothing chests for boats plying their trade along coastal Japan Sea routes known as the kitamaesen. It was apt symbol of the stout spirit of these ships captains and boat owners and held valuable documents such as passports, and business licenses, seals and money.
The Kakesuzuri style is the oldest Japanese ship’s chest design and can be seen in regional variations from about 1800. The name of the chest derives from the Suzuri-bako or ink stone box common to businesses and shops on land. Common to most is a cube like design with a large hinged front door.
The Cho-bako style is a ship’s strongbox, it’s name means “merchant box” and is the second most prevalent style. The Cho-bako style had the greatest number of variations of drawers, doors and secret compartments configurations. Some were a maze of false doors and boxes inside of boxes. These characteristics evidenced a pride in workmanship and thwarted theft. Cho-bako sea chests were made in port towns like Sakata in Yamagata, Ogi on Sado Island, and Mikunim Fukui pref.