The Bertocchi Collection of 77 Netsuke

It should be kept in mind that kimonos do not have pockets, and netsuke were used as anchors to hold sagemono: objects that hung from the waist such as inro (lacquered wooden containers carrying seals or medicines), purses (kinchuku), bag holders (tabakoire), pipe holders (kiseruzutzu), and writing sets (yatate).

The earliest netsuke are called manju netsuke; they were flat or spherical and could have engraved ornamental motifs. These proto-netsuke already appear in the woodcuts of Moronobu (1663-1729)

The 1800s saw the transition to low and high relief sculpture such as:

ryūsa netsuke named after their inventor, have the round shape of flat manju, but are drilled in high or low relief.

kagamibuta netsuke “mirror box” consisting of two ivory parts in the shape of a bowl with a metal relief top embedded on top.

suigara Ake or Hihatari are netsuke containers that could hold tobacco ashes between refills.

hako, ingyo, yatate were netsuke containers for ointments, seal paste, etc.

Katabori netsuke are a miscellaneous group of carvings that includes several subcategories like:

anabori-netsuke that are drilled to have largely hollow interior space; of this type the most common is the clam motif, where miniatures are enclosed between engraved valves

sashi-netsuke have an elongated shape, literally “daggers,” similar in shape to sticks or gourds

obi-hasami are netsuke with a very elongated shape and the top is hooked so they can hang directly from the obi.

omote netsuke represent masks and groups of masks from Noh theater

Karakuri netsuke or “trick/hidden netsuke mechanism”-are netsuke that have moving parts that create surprising, comic or erotic gimmicks.

You can find more accurate informations on the history and ancient use of netsuke in the bookYōkai. Le Antiche Stampe dei Mostri Giapponesi – Published by Skira and for sale at our bookshop.