Japanese men used to hang personal items such as money pouches and tobacco from their kimono sash by means of a silk cord. A small toggle – ‘netsuke’ – attached to the top of the cord prevented it from slipping through the sash. These toggles began life with a practical purpose, but craftsmen soon developed them into miniature masterpieces and highly fashionable items.

Netsuke were intricately carved ornaments from ivory, wood, coral, semi-precious stones or other materials, and depicted a vast range of subjects. Although original pieces from the 18th-19th centuries are now much sought after by collectors and command high prices, inexpensive modern reproductions are also available. We hope you enjoy our selection of netsuke below.

Horse, goldfish and cicada

Neck wrestling, sleeping student

Neck wrestling, sleeping student

Buddha, geisha and crane. Top right: bird on a roof tile, with silk cord and lacquered container.

Buddha, geisha and crane. Top right: bird on a roof tile, with silk cord and lacquered container.

Netsuke of Chinese general crossing a river on his horse

Chinese general crossing a river on his horse