Easy Rider

Ceremonial palanquin
Ceremonial palanquin that was a form of transport favored by warlords in 19th-century Japan. Sackler Gallery, SI

In 1984, curator Ann Yonemura purchased a ceremonial palanquin—a form of transport favored by warlords in 19th-century Japan—for the then yet-to-be-opened Sackler Gallery of Art. "It had these three-leafed circular crests and heavy gold and silver ornamentation," she says. "And it required six men to carry it." Such elaborately decorated conveyances were reserved for the shogun's family, especially his brides. But curators could not determine for whom the 51-inch-tall palanquin was made—until now. Shin'ichi Saitoh, a curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, finally found the answer in the National Archives of Japan, in a booklet that listed items to be made for the Princess Atsuhime's 1856 wedding to shogun Tokugawa Lesada. By the time Atsuhime died 27 years later, both shoguns and palanquins were relics of the past.