Some of my favorite objects in the museum’s fine collection are netsuke — delightful little mini-sculptures that I like to call Japan’s Edo Period cell phone charms, except netsuke are not only ornamental but highly functional.
The persimmon, a lovely symbol of fall
In a nutshell, they act as toggles (fasteners), used to secure a purse or container suspended on a cord from the sash of a robe. The museum’s labels explain:
An inro (literally “seal casket”) is a small tiered container that a man would suspend from the sash of his kimono on a silk cord. A netsuke threaded onto this cord would serve as a toggle, and a movable bead (ojime) would keep the inro closed. Inro were used not only to hold seals (sometimes called “chops”)—which function in East Asian cultures in much the same way signatures do in the West—but also to hold other small items such as medicines.
Many of our netsuke take on all manner of subjects: flora and fauna, daily life, objects, people, and more, all ranging from charming and whimsical to hyper-realistic and creepy. They are truly a sight to behold, a must see in our Japanese galleries. To glimpse some, you can search our online collection here.
Since I love food and I love netsuke, and for many, Thanksgiving is about feasting, here are some netsuke of the food persuasion. Please enjoy, and tell us — which ones do you like? (I saved one of the absolute best for last) Have you seen our netsuke before? If so, did you have favorite?
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