a Basic Guide to Collecting Netsuke


What are Netsuke? Japanese garments such as Kosodes and Kimonos had no pockets and this resulted in the creation of Sagemono - small storage containers,  the most popular form of which were cases called inro. Inro were often adjustable and multi-tiered allowing for the compartmentalisation of various objects. The tiers were held in place by cords cinched tight at the top by a decorative "bead" called an ojime. The cords were then secured to the garment's sash (or obi) with a small object called a netsuke.

Brief History. Netsuke have been noted for craftsmanship and fine quality since the time of their creation in the early 17th century. Originally intended to be purely functional the Netsuke developed into a decorative item sometimes reflecting the individuality and wealth of its owner. Netsuke production flourished throughout the Edo period and were made from a variety of materials including boxwood, ivory, metal and cane.

Collecting Notes. As netsuke became prized as objects of art, so the different styles of netsuke developed. Some collectors look for only one or two styles whilst others feature a variety of different netsuke which together can be just as interesting. Some of the more common styles include: Manju (flat and typically round, often carved in relief); Katabori (small sculptures shaped into many different forms - the most collected netsuke); Sashi (thin or elongated objects); Ryusa (often carved with lace like qualities and similar in style to Manju); Kajamibuta (small round and compact). The subject matter of netsuke also varies greatly. Thus pieces may depict people or animals, showcase particular trades and crafts or have an erotic theme. The subjects are frequently based on folklore or myth, religion or reality.

Many buyers find they are not content purchasing one or two examples of this fine craft and begin to acquire further pieces. Netsuke are highly collectable due to their small size and common themes. There are many netsuke on the market that are modern and of inferior quality and whilst these items have their place as affordable starter pieces, the serious collector learns to differentiate the finer quality antique pieces. 

Pieces that date prior to 1920 are considered to be authentic because they would have been made at a time when netsuke were still functional. When shopping for antique netsuke consider the level of detail present in the piece. Newer pieces may appear to be fine at first blush but may not stand up to the scrutiny of closer inspection. It is recommended to look at and inspect items when  possible and develop a "feel" for quality which will only come with research and experience.  

Here at Green Parrot Antiques & Collectables I try to include Netsuke and and other Japanese art within my stock. Please see the Photo Gallery section for recent or current examples.