Netsuke, Japan

Netsuke, Japan

Netsuke
Japan
18th century
Museum no. 418-1904

The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hard-wearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of a grazing horse. The most widely used materials for making netsuke were traditionally ivory or wood. Throughout the Edo Period (1615-1868), ivory from the Indian elephant was imported by Chinese and Dutch traders. Owing to the cost of the material, a small piece of ivory would be used to maximum effect. The subjects of netsuke were often originally suggested by the shape of a particular material, as with this grazing horse. In time, however, this particular subject became a standard one used by numerous carvers over a long period of time.