Netsuke is a form of miniature sculpture that represents a Japanese tradition of intricate carving that is centuries old. It began as a practical item but over time developed into a real art form, created by established Japanese masters but now carved by sculptors around the world.
The kimono, the traditional form of Japanese dress, did not have pockets. While women would tuck small personal items into their sleeves, the men suspended their medicine bags, tobacco pouches, pipes, purses or writing tools on a silk cord from their obi (kimono sash).
The hanging objects that contain the personal items are called sagemono. In order to stop the silk cord from slipping through the obi, a small anchor was attached. This anchor is called a netsuke. (The most popular pronunciation is ‘net-ski’, while the actual Japanese is closer to “netskeh”). Ojime, a sliding bead, was strung on the silk cord between the netsuke and the sagemono to tighten or loosen the opening of the sagemono.
In the late 19th century the use of kimonos began to decline, and netsuke became prized miniature sculptures instead of just fashion accessories. Carvers adapted and began to experiment try new ideas and new materials.