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Antique Japanese Netsuke

Antique Japanese Netsuke

Japanese netsuke were invented because kimonos do not have pockets; it was originally a carved toggle part of a box that helped a person wearing a kimono carry personal effects. It was found at the end of a cord, and when the cord was pulled through the netsuke, it kept the items from slipping through the sash. Two holes of unequal size were drilled at the bottom of the netsuke to secure it.

What are Japanese netsuke made of?

Antique netsukes are made of animal materials like bones and teeth, mainly from cattle, and coral. Even animal ivory was taken from the tusks of elephants, walruses, and mammoths to be used in the creation of these small, purse-like accessories. Each ivory aged differently, giving a unique look to each netsuke created. Plant materials are also used, including a specific vegetable ivory found in Central America, resin, and wood (including fossilized wood and boxwood). Sometimes, other materials are incorporated as well:

  • Ivorene. Ivorene is made from celluloid. It has mold marks but no grain, as would be found on natural ivory. Its also flammable. Touching a red-hot pin to it should cause a tiny area to melt. This is how to tell an ivorene piece from an ivory netsuke.
  • Glass
  • Metal. Metal is more likely to be used as an accent in a Japanese netsuke, though very fine netsuke is made of silver, gold and other precious metals.
  • Porcelain
What is an ojime?

This object is part of the Japanese inro. The inro is a tiered box that people carried to hold such items as their medicine. It has separate compartments that were held together with a cord. The ojime is the string fastener that allowed the cord to be adjusted. The netsuke secured the cord and its attachment and kept them from falling from the sash, or obi of the Japanese kimono. Despite their practicality, these miniature works are often considered art and were sometimes signed by their creators.

What does netsuke mean?

This particular piece is pronounced ñnet -soo- kay.î The Japanese word comes from two words meaning ñto attachî and ñroot.î

What forms do Japanese netsuke come in?

A netsuke sculpture comes in many forms. They can be:

  • Katabori, which are figures, such as a dragon or human. This is the most common type. Katabori come in nearly countless shapes. Types of katabori include those with hollowed out centers, long sashi netsuke, and katabori made in the form of Noh masks.
  • Manju, which are usually round and can be made as one piece or made in two halves.
  • Ryusa, which are also round but carved to resemble lace.
  • Kagamibuta, which are round but have beautifully wrought mirror lids.
  • Trick, or karakuri, which have hidden mechanisms.