Introduction to Sagemono and Netsuke

During the Edo period (1615 - 1868) Japan experienced political stability and economic prosperity. The middle class invested their vitality and money in a life of luxury, pleasures and promotion of the arts. Fashionable dressing consisted of the robe (kosode), the outer robe (uchikake), the jacket (haori) and devided skirt (hakama), which were all without pockets. The necessities of life like money pouches (kinchaku), little leather bags (d˘ran), miniature containers with interlocking compartments for seals, seal paste and pills (inr˘), bottle gourds and tobacco pouches had hence to be worn dangling on silk cords somehow fixed to the garments. These receptacles were called sagemono, "things which are suspended" from the sash. A small counterpart of the sagemono, which is fastened to the free end of a silk cord loop and serving as a toggle was called netsuke (ne = root, tsuke = attached, fixed). It possessed two small holes (himot˘shi) which receive and guide the silk cord of the sagemono. The netsuke was moved up underneath the sash (obi) to secure the sagemono, of moved down to release it. All these dress accessories possessed the status jewellery enjoyed in Europe.

Later, especially netsuke became highly sought after objects of collection. By merrit of their robust nature, which is founded by a compact design and material like wood, ivory or horn, they best withstood the ravages of time. They are diminutive, 4 - 8 cm tall carvings representing a great variety of motifs, animals, plants, still lifes, figures from legend, people doing all sorts of things imaginable - an encyclopaedia of Japanese life is thus created. Triangular or spherical, often highly condensed representations that fit snugly in your hand, abstract art taking up the smallest possible space. They can be true to nature, some of them almost too realistic with occasionally earthy references to all too human traits, frailties and functions.

My special admiration is for netsuke which combine the tree virtues:

Inr˘ with Netsuke and Glass Ojime

Inr˘ 79 x 65 mm, netsuke 53 mm, 19th century.
The multi-compartment box (inr˘) is decorated in polished gold lacquer sprinkled with pigment (kinji and togidashi) showing a sleeping shepherd boy slumped next to his ox. It is hold together by a glass bead (ojime) through which the silk loop is running. The netsuke on the upper end of the silk cord depicts a recumbent buffalo and is carved from boxwood.