Ask Us – About Netsukes

from The Bead Scoop Volume II Issue 4 Dec 2008

from The Bead Scoop Vol. II  Issue 4  Dec 2008

Q. What are Ojimes and Netsukes?

A.  Aisha Buntin wrote for the Hawaii Antiques & Collectibles Newspaper”

“Japan during the seventeenth century was a world without pockets. To carry medicines, tobacco, seals, and other small personal affects required one to hang them from their obi or sash. From this need sprung various sets or kits such as the tobacco pouch, the inro, and the yatate (writing set). The inro was a layered box with two to seven tiers that could contain various small objects. The inro was held together by braided silk cords, which ran vertically through the many layers. Keeping these braided cords together was an ojime or bead, which finally ended in a toggle piece called a netsuke. The netsuke was tucked under the obi and helped to suspend the inro below. Through human nature, these elements began to serve as more than just their utilitarian use, they became expressions of the artist who created them and the individual taste of the wearer.

Although the Japanese did not have jewelry in the Western sense of the word, they most certainly knew about craftsmanship, artistry, decoration, and adornment. These small sets of accessories became highly refined and reflected great sophistication. Inro were usually made of wood coated in lacquer, decorated with gold and silver inlays. Ojime and netsuke were crafted out of wood, ivory, ceramic, or metal. A true inro suite would consist of an inro, ojime, and netsuke sharing a unified theme.

Just as women today covet their Prada bags and Manolo Blahnik shoes, inro suites were prized for their artistry and elegance. Rarely do we find the inro suites intact with their matching components. In the world of Japanese art there are collectors who are drawn to the exquisite beauty of the inro boxes, which often demonstrate the most sophisticated lacquer work to be found. Bead enthusiasts marvel at the intricacy and refinement of the tiny ojime beads. Netsuke themselves are collected for their sculptural nature and ingenious miniature designs. Function provided the stage upon which Japanese artists could perform their magic.”