skip to content
Netsuke of two rabbits eating locquats

Okatomo was one of the fifty-four netsuke carvers mentioned in the Soken Kisho, a book written by Inaba Tsuryu in 1781, detailing various Japanese arts. Netsuke were used to secure sagemono—suspended objects, such as medicine containers, pipe holders or tobacco pouches—to one’s clothing. They were usually carved of ivory, wood or stag antler, but other materials such as lacquer, pottery, and even bronze were also used. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, a well-dressed gentleman in Japan seldom appeared on the street without a carefully considered ensemble of netsuke and sagemono suspended from the sash of his garment. At first, a simple piece of wood or shell was used to secure the sagemono, but soon netsuke evolved into wonderful miniature sculptures that drew their motifs from daily life, religious and mythological figures, animals and vegetables, fairy tales and the imagination of the artist. The Fitzwilliam Museum houses more than five hundred Japanese netsuke from the 17th to the 20th centuries, including some rare and early examples.