Netsuke Terminology / Glossary

Aji:
The appearance of age in a netsuke caused by wear, oxidation, and other surface changes reflecting the passage of time. Commonly used to describe the patina an object acquires through generations of handling.
Ama:
A diving girl or fisherwoman.
Amagatsu Doll:
A doll placed near the heads of newborn children to protect them from evil spirits.
Anabori:
Hollowing and inner carving of a katabori netsuke.
Bakemono:
A goblin or monster in human form.
Baku:
A mythical beast that devours bad dreams. It has an elephant’s head and a trunk.
Bokuto:
Often called "doctors' swords." Bokuto were wood swords inserted between the obi and the kimono and worn by merchants and professional men since only samurai were allowed to wear real swords.
Edo Period:
The golden age of netsuke carving, 1603–1868. Edo is the former name of Tokyo.
Figural Netsuke:
A netsuke in the shape of a human figure.
Gaki:
A hunger spirit starving in Hell.
Go:
The pseudonym or artistic name adopted by a netsuke carver.
Hako:
a box-shaped sagemono.
Hogen:
A title awarded to a carver for artistic merit.
Himotoshi:
The apertures, usually in the form of drilled holes, carved in netsuke for the passage of a cord. In some instances, formations in the body of a netsuke are used for this purpose. These are known as "natural himotoshi."
Inro:
A sectional case or box, usually lacquered, which was worn suspended from the obi by a cord for which the netsuke serves as a toggle.
Ittobori:
A one knife, faceted style of woodcarving.
Junishi:
The 12 animals of the Asiatic zodiac. A junishi netsuke incorporates all the zodiac animals.
Kagamibuta:
A manju style netsuke with a metal lid and a bowl. Its literal meaning is mirror lid.
Kakihan:
A personalized seal carved or painted, usually below the signature on a netsuke. Sometimes called a kao.
Kanji:
The Chinese characters that comprise the signature on a netsuke.
Kappa:
Mythical amphibious goblins with the body of a tortoise, limbs of a frog and head of a monkey, with a hollow at the top of the head containing the fluid which gives them their strength.
Karako:
A Chinese boy.
Katabori:
A carved netsuke in the shape of an animal, vegetable, or three-dimensional object.
Kirin:
A mythological animal with a single horn, horse’s hooves, and flames licking up its scaly body.
Kiseruzutsu:
A pipe case.
Makie:
A general category of techniques in which designs are created by sprinkling gold and other materials on lacquer. Its literal meaning is sprinkled picture.
Manju:
A type of netsuke in a round, flat shape, named after a popular bean paste confection.
Mei:
The signature and/or kakihan and inscription on a netsuke.
Mokugyo:
A hollow wooden gong or bulbous bell with slit, hit by hand with a wooden striker used in Buddhist ceremonies. Some netsuke depict the shape and form of a mokugyo.
Netsuke:
A small sculptural object, a cultural artifact that could be used as a toggle to suspend items hung from the sash (obi) of the kimono.
Netsuke-shi:
An accomplished netsuke artist.
Ningyo:
A netsuke in the form of a doll.
Nio:
A temple guardian.
Obidome:
A small brooch or ornamental slide that goes on the silk cord that fastens a woman’s obi
Obi:
The sash of a kimono.
Obihasami:
An elongated, flat netsuke with a curved end that catches on the upper edge of the obi.
Ojime:
A moveable bead through which the cords joining the netsuke and sagemono passes.
Okimono:
A decorative Japanese carving, usually larger than a netsuke and intended for display.
Oni:
A mischievous demon with horns often depicted in netsuke.
Meiji Period:
The time period following the restoration of the Meiji emperor in which Western clothing replaced traditional Japanese dress, 1868–1912.
Rakan:
A disciple of Buddha. Rakan are usually represented in netsuke as ascetics with prominent rib cages.
Ryusa:
A variation of a manju netsuke, named after the carver who originated it, that contains central perforations and designs.
Sagemono:
A hanging object, such as an inro, purse, pouch, pipe case or other object suspended from the obi by a netsuke.
Sarumawashi:
A monkey trainer.
Sashi:
A type of elongated netsuke, worn inserted between the sash and the kimono.
Sennin:
Immortals who live in remote mountain areas. They are often depicted as hermits wearing mugwort capes.
Shishi:
A mythological leonine creature originating in China. In Japan pairs of shishi are often decorative guardians at the entrances of shrines or temples in which case they may be called koma-inu.
Shojo:
Mythological creatures with human faces and long straight hair who love sake. In netsuke, sleeping women with ornamented robes are often, perhaps mistakenly, identified as shojo.
Shunga:
A term used in netsuke for erotic subjects. It translates literally as “spring painting.”
Soken Kisho:
A book on Japanese art by Inaba Tsuryu of Osaka, published in 1781 and comprised of seven volumes in one of which 57 netsuke carvers are listed, many with short commentaries on their lives or works.
Tall Figure:
A figural netsuke over 10cm. in height.
Tanuki:
A raccoon dog, common in Asia, sometimes referred to in the West as badgers. Believed to have the mythical power to change shape to that of a human.
Tengu:
Mythical creatures that dwell in forests. Tengu no Tamago refers to a tengu emerging from an egg.
Tennin:
Buddhist angels. Flying celestial beings usually depicted in netsuke with female upper bodies and bird-like lower bodies.
Tonkotsu:
A tobacco box that is worn as a sagemono.
Ukibori:
Relief carving that consists of elevated details above the surface.
Umimatsu:
Literally “sea pine,” a marine coral used for netsuke and netsuke inlays.
Yatate:
A portable writing set that is worn as a sagemono.
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