I discovered netsuke on a visit to the British Museum many years ago. I was immediately charmed by the beauty, detail and whimsy of this miniature art form. Later, netsuke were introduced to a wider audience by author Edmund de Waal, in his book The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010).

Skull with lizard


This week I once again had the opportunity to spend a few hours in the British Museum, where I sought out the relative tranquillity of the Japan rooms on the 5th floor.


The museum has thousands of netsuke in its collection, of which only a small sample is on display at any time, so the ones in these photos are not the same as I had seen on my previous visit.


Octopus and a jar; Two horses; Rabbit
A fish and a dove

These human figures are none too flattering, but the artistry and detail are delightful. Check out the movement in the Ainu woman’s dress and sleeves. The Dutchman has a cockerel in his right hand, and some kind of implement that looks like a golf club in his left.

Chinese trader and Dutch trader
Ainu mother and child

This image of a monkey trainer is compelling – the man is grotesque with a manic grin; the poor monkey seems less happy.

Monkey trainer

Look at the bulging veins on this three-clawed demon arm:

severed arm of oni from Rashomon legend
Bat in a shell

This piece consists of a beautifully formed aubergine (eggplant) which splits into two halves. One half contains a carving of Mt Fuji, the other a hawk perched atop a yardarm or banner.

Hawk inside an aubergine
Lion-dog with a ball

2 thoughts on “Netsuke

  1. Really fascinating. I’ve read de Waal’s book and found it gave a fascinating account of the dilemma facing Vienna’s and Europe’s Jews in the face to the Nazi threat.

  2. Very interesting indeed, I love figures and stuff like this. Maybe not everything but specially the figures are pretty cool I think. I am become great at Japanese and while I do it I have my own site for storing Japanese vocabulary and so forth, do you wanna “trade” links? I’ll link to your blog and you do the same for me. What do you think?

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