Art in Miniture
Traditional Japanese garments (kimono) had no pockets; however, men who wore them needed a place to store their personal belongings. Their solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' sashes (obi). The containers may have been pouches or small woven baskets, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes (inro), which were held shut by ojime, which were sliding beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured the cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke.
Netsuke, like the inro and ojime, evolved over time from being strictly utilitarian into objects of great artistic merit and an expression of extraordinary craftsmanship. Such objects have a long history reflecting the important aspects of Japanese folklore and life. Netsuke production was most popular during the Edo period in Japan, around 1615-1868. Netsuke comes in many different shapes and materials. Some of the more common forms are:
Katabori-netsuke or "sculpture netsuke" - this is the most common type of netsuke. They are compact three-dimensional figures carved in a round shape and are usually no more than three inches high.
Sashi-netsuke- this is an elongated form of katabori, literally "stab" netsuke, similar in length to the sticks and gourds used as improvised netsuke before carved pieces were produced. They are about six inches long.
Manju-netsuke- a thick, flat, round netsuke, with carving usually done in relief, sometimes made of two ivory halves. Shaped like a manju, a Japanese confection.
Netsuke can be made from a variety of materials including ivory and bone, hardwoods, clay, stone or casted metals. Rarer netsuke are crafted from jade, nuts and even tiger teeth. Most netsuke depict people and deities as well as a variety of plant and animals. Some netsuke represent single, simple, objects, and some depict entire scenes from history, mythology, or literature.
Inro or “sealed basket” are small decorative containers that hang from the waist. They originated at the end of the sixteenth century and were worn by men to hold seals and herbal and other medicines. They were considered a particularly good way of keeping the contents sealed and fresh. By the eighteenth century they had become decorative accessories and were commissioned by the merchant class, provincial rulers and their samurai, and those that could afford them.
Inro are made from very thin leather, wood or paper covered in decorated lacquer. They consist of separate sections stacked on top of each other, and are kept together by a cord loop that passes through a channel on each side and underneath the bottom section. The sections are held together when the cord is tightened by pulling it through a bead (ojime), rather like the toggles used in outdoor clothing. The cord is then passed behind the waist sash (obi) so that the inro hangs freely from the waist. To prevent the inro from slipping through the obi, a netsuke is attached to the end of the cord.
There is no fixed form of decoration. As with other objects, surfaces are decorated with a variety of subjects. Human figures were popular, sometimes engaged in the performing arts as well as animals such as monkeys, lions and oxen can also be found.
So come in and take a look at our extensive Netsuke and Inro collection. Prices start as low as $32.50 and they make great decorative gifts for that hard to shop for person!
We here at Ming's Zen Gallery hope to share a Zen moment with you soon!
The International Netsuke Society: http://www.netsuke.org/
Collectors Weekly: http://www.collectorsweekly.com
Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/