Yesterday we finished an installation in the Japanese galleries of 123 netsuke, all newly on view. Netsuke are miniature sculptural toggles (usually around two inches or less across), which were threaded onto the silk cords of small inro (seal or medicine cases), pouches, or pipes/tobacco accessories. These toggles allowed wearers to keep their accessories fastened safely to their person as they went about their business. (Something like clipping your keys or your badge to your belt loop, but a bit more fashionable.) Wearers would run the cords under their obi sashes so that the netsuke hung out above the obi and the accessory hung below it.
One of the netsuke on view in the new installation is a tiny figure shown with a tobacco pouch and pipe case hung from its obi by a dark colored, round netsuke—perhaps one similar to the kagamibuta (“mirror lid”) netsuke also on view . . .
LEFT: Netsuke of Okame lifting her kimono hem, approx. 1800–1900. Signed “Mitsu” (or “Ko”). Wood; inlaid ivory, coral, metal, and horn. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1233.
RIGHT: Kagamibuta-type netsuke of Hachisuka Koroku and Hiyoshimaru (youthful Toyotomi Hideyoshi) meeting on the Yahagi Bridge, approx. 1800–1900. Signed “Soyo.” Mixed metals; buffalo horn. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y285.