is a form of small sculpture which developed in Japan over a period of more
than three hundred years. Netsuke served both functional and aesthetic purposes.
The kimono, the traditional form of Japanese dress, had no pockets. Women would
tuck small personal items into their sleeves, but men suspended their tobacco
pouches, pipes, purses or writing implements, on a silk cord, from their obi
(sash). These hanging objects are called sagemono. To stop the cord from
slipping through the obi, a small toggle was attached. This toggle is called a netsuke. (The most popular pronunciation
is net-ski, while the actual Japanese is closer to netskeh). A sliding bead
(ojime) was strung on the cord between the netsuke and the sagemono to
tighten or loosen the opening of the sagemono. The entire ensemble was then
worn, at the waist, and functioned as a sort of removable hip pocket. All three
objects, the netsuke, the ojime and the different types of sagemono were often
beautifully decorated with elaborate carving, lacquer work, or inlays of rare
and exotic materials, including: wood, ivory, precious metals, shell, coral
and semi-precious stones. All three items developed into highly coveted and
collectible art forms but it is the netsuke that has by far, most captivated
netsuke of the finest quality are still being carved, as highly respected, original
works of art. While not intended to be worn they adhere to all the standards
of a true netsuke. There are several dozen highly successful netsuke artists,
many of whom have been apprentices to great carvers of the past, who are currently
creating modern masterpieces. Another fascinating aspect of these contemporary
netsuke is that they reflect the time and place in which artists live. In the
early part of this century, dealers encouraged netsuke carvers to emulate antique
netsuke both in style and subject matter. These had a charm of their own.
netsuke artists are exploring new techniques, new subject matter and new materials.
This vibrant approach to netsuke has captured the interest of both old and new
collectors throughout the world. Also, netsuke carving is no longer confined
to the Japanese. There are talented, enthusiastic carvers, excited by worldwide
collector interest, museum exhibits, collector organizations and a wealth of
books on the subject, who are creating netsuke in many parts of the world. Some
use traditional Japanese themes, others explore themes indigenous to their own
areas. There are now talented and respected netsuke carvers in Japan, England,
the United States, Canada, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Germany.
Interest in collecting netsuke and in creating them is enjoying a strong renaissance.
There are active collectors groups to expand knowledge of netsuke and advance
the art form. This is an exciting time for both the established and the new
collector to be involved with netsuke.