Netsuke Online Exhibition

Netsuke (Netskee) are miniature sculptures invented in 17th century Japan as toggles to hold two lengths of cord on either side of an Inro together.  They are unique to Japan.  Men’s traditional garments, which appear to the Western eye as robes, had no pockets.  Containers were created to solve the problem and could be soft pouches (Sagemono) or wood and lacquer boxes (Inro).  Inro designs were expanded into a series of stacked boxes with a loop on each side.  A cord, often beautifully woven or knotted silk, was threaded through these loops, then through the Netsuke, and finally through an Ojime.  The Netsuke made it possible to tighten the cord and the Ojime, a sliding bead, to maintain its tautness to the man’s waist sash, preventing it from bouncing or being lost.   The Netsuke always has two piercings and the Ojime, one.

Netsuke production was most popular during the Edo (C.E.1615-1868) period.  They reflect the rich and imaginative folklore of Japan, much of it intended to instruct the populace, especially children and the illiterate, on good citizenship.

The collection displayed here were first acquired by the donors in the 19th century and given to the museum in the early 20th century.