Netsuke refers to a wide range of things, including natural rocks, shells, and roots as well as simple sculptures. They also contain simple, exquisite masterworks and modern trinket-netsuke. Each item qualifies as a netsuke. Each one is unique. As a result, it is nearly universally accepted that anyone can discover a netsuke that they enjoy. Whatever your preferences are for design, materials, subject, colors, textures, or time period, there is a netsuke out there just waiting for you to find it. Discover one that you adore, and the entire universe of Japanese art, mythology, and life will open up for you.

Netsuke refers to a wide range of things, including natural rocks, shells, roots

Ojime, the small beads that hold the inro cords taut at the top of the case, are a whole collectible art area in themselves. They are available in the same materials and styles as netsuke, as all of the requirements are same. They must be durable enough to withstand use, retain exquisite detail when carved, and have a pleasant feel in the hand. The simplest ojime is a little ball with a hole in it. Some ball-shaped ojime are carved in bas relief, such as the 10,000 chrysanthemum motif. The ivory carving of an archer is so finely detailed that the bow string is sculpted in relief. The ripe peach’s leaves and stem protrude, adding interest to the plain bead design. This ivory carving has been varnished to make it look more lifelike.


Each of these styles has its own characteristics, but the carving of the dog and dragon in full relief exemplifies the ojime carver’s expertise. The entire composition is created within a sphere measuring only 5/8″ in diameter.

What is a netsuke?

The two Japanese letters used to spell the word “netsuke” are ne, which means “root,” and tsuke, which means “to fasten.” Thus, netsuke originally referred to a root that had been attached to something. In other sources, netsuke is commonly referred to as a “toggle.” The dictionary definition is appropriate-“a device used to secure or hold something, especially: a. a pin inserted in a nautical knot to keep it from slipping; b. a device attached to the end of or inserted in a loop in a rope, chain, or strap to prevent slipping, to tighten or to hold an attached object.”

However, it appears that widespread usage of the word “toggle” is more linked with “toggle bolt” or “toggle switch,” and so deviates from the definition of a “device attached to the end of a rope to keep it from slipping.” As a result, rather than utilizing any English synonym, the term netsuke will be used in this book.

The first netsuke was most likely made by an ambitious Japanese who needed to carry little personal objects like money and plants. Westerners would have kept the cash in their wallets or purses, and the herbs in an envelope in their pockets. Of course, the Japanese were unable to do so because their kimonos lacked pockets.

A basket or pouch may have been the first practical means of transporting items. But they needed to be held. Carrying something in one hand not only impairs swordsmanship, but it is also cumbersome and tiresome. Thus, smaller baskets and purses were created that could be connected to the kimono’s belt, known as an obi, using a cord. Then someone found that he could attach a stick or attractive root to the cord’s free end, slide it under the obi, and hang it from the top.

When the basket drew down on the cord, it tucked the root into the top edge of the obi, preventing the cable from pulling back through. When the wearer desired to glance into the basket, he could simply slide the stick out from under the obi, bringing everything within easy reach.