Japanese people used to hang their everyday articles such as small money pouches, tobacco pouches, and seal or medicine cases (inro) from their sash or belt (obi), because the Japanese traditional garment (kimono) has no pockets. To prevent it falling to the ground, the hanging object(s) (collectively called sagemono) was attached to a small toggle with a cord, and the toggle is called netsuke. In general, the netsuke has the following physical characteristics or requirement:
- To serve as a toggle attached to hanging objects, it has 2 small holes or a channel (himotoshi) to put the cord through.
- To be worn as an accessory or held in hands, it doesn't (or shouldn't) have parts that can easily be broken or might catch the garment.
- To be worn at the waist, it is comparatively small. It is generally about as large as you can hold in your hand, but it could be a bit smaller or larger than that. The size usually is about 1.5 – 2.5 inch (38mm – 64mm).
In early times, netsuke flourished as a part of the ensemble with a small pouch and/or an inro and cord-tightening bead (ojime). Nowadays, many netsuke are exhibited, traded, collected as independent objects, but they were originally attached to sagemono, some sets of which you might also see in museums, private collections, galleries, and publications.
Subject Categories of Netsuke:
Netsuke reflect the nature of the society that produced them. It displays every aspect of Japan and Chinese culture including folk and religion, all types of people and creatures, both real and imagined, and every kind of object. The Main subject categories of netsuke are as below:
- Animal - Chinese zodiac animals and other animal such as cat, frog, turtle, elephant etc. are common animal subject of netsukes.
- People - Called “figurine” netsuke, including famous, anonymous, current, historical, real and fictitious, god, children, warriors etc.
- Sexual – Called "shunga" netsuke, it may depict a male and female in sexual conjugation, or may contain only subtle or symbolic sexual references
- Others – Such as plants, insect and some non-living things.