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The Art of the Netsuke Lives On
June 18, 2012 1:12 PM   Subscribe

"[N]early all Japanese people have figurines, anime or cartoon characters hanging from their mobile phones — for the most part without realizing they are in their mass-produced, contemporary way keeping alive the nation's netsuke tradition. In contrast, those netsuke on Kuroiwa's phone are the real deal — small, delicate, uniquely crafted sculptures in ivory and an assortment of woods." Julian Littler searches for traditional ivory netsuke carvers (print view; standard web view), and interviews Akira Kuroiwa, a member of the Japan Ivory Sculptors Association (Google auto-translation). [via MetaChat]

Classes are still taught in carving traditional netsuke, even in ivory (contrary to the British Museum, as pointed out in Littler's article). Asahi Cultural Centers offer classes on netsuke carving (though classes are limited to Japanese language and culture on the English form of the website). The Japan Ivory Sculptors Association offers classes in carving ivory. If you'd like to try carving netsuke with a more common material, the Wood Workers' Institute has a short article on netsuke carving, though general skill and understanding of woodcarving is assumed.

The Kyoto Seishu Netsuke Art Museum has an English-language website, providing a history of netsuke and featuring a glimpse at their collection. Some modern collectors and carvers have websites with their personal collections and creations online, including this collection owned by Mr. Chiba, carver Ataru Maeda, and more sites collected by Janel Jacobson

Previously:
* Following the Iron Brush features a bonus link to Clive Hallam's website
* Tiny treasures - classic and contemporary netsuke
* Netsuke: ornate artifacts of the Edo period
* Thogchags, Tsha tshas, Netsuke, or ???... What's your favorite fetish?
posted by filthy light thief (32 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
\(^▽^)/
posted by ocherdraco at 1:31 PM on June 18, 2012


By now I was getting desperate, so I again phoned the Tokyo Association for Ivory Crafts and pleaded for help in researching about netsuke. My reward was a suggestion to contact the International Netsuke Carvers Association.
Clearly, the INCA needs better PR.
posted by zamboni at 1:49 PM on June 18, 2012


"Nearly all?" Is it really that common? I have no idea, but surely some people would find it impractical...
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:53 PM on June 18, 2012


They aren't really items of practicality now, but of adornment. I guess you could differentiate your phone from others by the faux-netsuke (I'm not sure if there's a proper name for the new plastic bits), but I don't think that is the primary concern.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:56 PM on June 18, 2012


the Wood Workers' Institute has a short article on netsuke carving, though general skill and understanding of woodcarving is assumed.

That short article by Peter Benson is good; he has a full length book, The Art of Carving Netsuke, with a graduated series of carving exercises which assume no previous carving experience.

Tom Sterling has a full length free ebook, How to Carve Netsuke and Miniature Sculpture, on his website. I spent much of last night skimming it.

I've been sculpting in oil clay for some time now, but I'm thinking of spending some time with Victory Brown wax, along with the red, green, blue, and purple waxes that jewelers use, and then having a local bronze foundry or jeweler's casting shop cast it. Jeweler's wax tools and wax are fairly cheap so it's not an expensive hobby to get into.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Considering the ban on the sale of ivory, how do they intend on keeping the tradition alive for much longer?
posted by crunchland at 2:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Nearly all?" Is it really that common?

It's pretty common, or was 5 or 6 years ago when I lived there. My phone when I lived in Japan had a little opening built in with this peg where you could wrap the string that holds one of these things. OK not a great description on my part, but I figure if your cell phone is designed and built with these things in mind they must be pretty popular.
posted by Hoopo at 2:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is annoying is I wanted to buy a Gizmo netsuke for a friend but no american phones have the lanyard attachment point.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:31 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Considering the ban on the sale of ivory, how do they intend on keeping the tradition alive for much longer?

Sterling's ebook:
Ivories and Ivory-like
Elephant ivory, fossil mastodon and mammoth ivory, whale tooth ivory, walrus tusk ivory, fossil walrus
tusk ivory, hornbill casque ivory, hippopotamus tooth ivory, boar tusk ivory, bone, horn, antler, rhinoceros
horn
...
Note: Elephant, whale, walrus, and hornbill casque ivory are governed by
the International CITES treaty and national regulations concerning posses-
sion, transportation, and sale of animal products from endangered species.
Use with caution. Better yet, use fossil ivories instead.

Hippo ivory blanks are really very cheap. I'd want a certificate that this was from a government population cull or a zoo's dentist and not a poacher, mind.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suppose some modification is necessary for smartphones (link goes to the first iPhone/Netsuke product in a google search, not an enforcement of said product, YMMV)
posted by jazon at 2:35 PM on June 18, 2012


> What is annoying is I wanted to buy a Gizmo netsuke for a friend but no american phones have the lanyard attachment point.

That is werid. Every phone I've ever owned or looked at closely has one. Maybe they stopped putting them on smartphones because they're too big to dangle from a lanyard. Anyone with an iPhone know if they still put the attachment point on them?
posted by brenton at 2:35 PM on June 18, 2012


As a keen and regular observer (sometimes photographer) of people using their mobile phones on the trains, train platforms and streets of Tokyo, I'd say that the little keitai strap objects (anime figurines and all manner of other litttle gee-gaws) have fallen way out of favor, compared to just a year or two ago. I'm seeing far fewer of them. Here's one from 2011.

Maybe part of that is the trend toward smartphones where it seems that perhaps it's not so easy to attach something?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:36 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


no american phones have the lanyard attachment point

There's a fix for that. Not strong enough to hang a smartphone on a lanyard but more than enough to dangle a few charms.
posted by jamaro at 2:38 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Also, that site is the deep dark rabbit hole of cellphone charms. So many! So cute!)
posted by jamaro at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


the faux-netsuke (I'm not sure if there's a proper name for the new plastic bits)

I've heard them called cellphone charms, or mobile charms, or phone straps.

I keep mine on my keychain when the various gadgets hovering around my person don't have obliging holes. Back when everyone I knew had the super cheap cellphones, phone straps really did help differentiate them, particularly when professors would demand all phones be placed in a box at the beginning of class during a test. This was in the US like five/six years ago. I actually have more phone straps now than I did then, and they're all on my keychain in a big clanky cluster.
posted by Mizu at 2:49 PM on June 18, 2012


Metafilter: my person don't have obliging holes.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I found this by following one of sebastienbailard's links:
"Oosik" is an Eskimo word for the walrus penile bone. They range in size from 8" long to nearly 2 feet in length and several inches in diameter. Oosik is for the most part a very dense heavy bone and the large specimens were often used as clubs and sharpened as picks by the Eskimo.
So now you know.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This thread has gone in a very unexpected direction all of a sudden
posted by Hoopo at 3:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here are the cool little things I have attached to my mobile.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:10 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I miss the little attachments! All my non-smart phones have had a slot where I could wind the lanyard for the charm, and it seemed almost a rite of passage that graduating up to a BB/Android/iPhone meant I had to give up my figurines. My favourite charm must be the awesomely androgynous Kurapika. Because hey, deadly assassin with a tortured past who (IIRC) occasionally advantage of the fact that he can pass as a girl to catch his enemies off guard? Awesome.

I hate keeping my phone in various purses/bags and always shoved it in my front jean pocket, which I was often told (back when my parents still had a degree of influence over my sartorial decisions) was very uncouth for a young lady of blah blah blah. The attachment hanging out was a great way to pull out my phone in a hurry without fuss, even if it didn't make for the most graceful of accessories.
posted by Phire at 3:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Nearly all?" Is it really that common? I have no idea, but surely some people would find it impractical...

It's definitely common, but "nearly all" is an overstatement. Like flapjax, I've noticed a drop in popularity in recent years and that very few smart phone users have them. From my experience, they aren't very common among professionals (especially men), either.
posted by Kevtaro at 3:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Professional men in Japan do the dorky thing of attaching a lanyard to their cellphones, looping over their neck, and sliding the phone in a shirt pocket. Very much dad fashion.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:42 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dad Fashion is serious business in Japan. I've actually managed to forget that cell phone holsters are very much no longer a Thing in the US by this point
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:19 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm on the Tokyo subway right now, just in time for the morning commuter rush. From this numerically- and demographically limited sample of a few hundred people, I can see a grand total of one keitai strap. A middle aged lady some kind of golden dangly thing. It seems like the trend peaked 10-12 years ago and has been in decline ever since.
posted by jet_manifesto at 4:19 PM on June 18, 2012


Hah! Back in the 60s those were called "stash bags".
posted by Twang at 4:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh wait, that's the inro, not the netsuke. Never mind.
posted by Twang at 5:00 PM on June 18, 2012


As an American die-hard strap user, it is iPhones and Pantech at least who don't include strap hooks. I totally use mine primarily in a practical way and only secondarily for adornment, exactly how Phire describes.
posted by rhizome at 6:07 PM on June 18, 2012


I have three keitai straps attached to my android - a little plush triceratops, a One Piece logo, and a thingie from one of the music parody groups on 戦国鍋TV (a Japanese history variety show which is awesome and you should check out if you can).

In general it seems that iPhones don't have any way of attaching keitai straps, but a lot of androids do. Also, I do my commuting during the morning school rush hour, and everyone I see has stuff hooked onto their phones, so I guess it's much more a middle school up to college age habit.

I have a huge collection of the Hello Kitty keitai straps, as well - every time I travel around Japan I make sure to buy one specific to the area I'm in - but I use those as ornaments for my little Christmas tree. I'm pretty sure that Sanrio officially labels these as netsuke, not as keitai straps.
posted by emmling at 7:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]




I was thinking this just the other day, at the V & A museum in London (where there are lots of netsuke on display in the Japan section).
posted by subdee at 6:28 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I do my commuting during the morning school rush hour, and everyone I see has stuff hooked onto their phones, so I guess it's much more a middle school up to college age habit.

Is Afro Ken still a thing?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:18 AM on June 20, 2012


I recently read an excellent book on netsuke by Edmund de Waal, The Hare with the Amber Eyes. He's a potter who's exhibited at the V&A. It tells of how a collection of netsuke was passed down through his family, but it's so much more than that - as the Guardian says, it tells a "tragic family story of a great European dynasty ripped apart by the turbulent history of the 20th century." Here's some photos of some of the items in his collection, the first one being the eponymous hare. His book very deservedly won the Ondaatje Prize for "evoking the spirit of a place."
posted by Devika at 9:06 PM on June 26, 2012


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