Netsuke are very small. Smaller than a matchbox, often as small as the joint of my little-finger, these Japanese ivory, bone and wooden carvings are hard explosions of exactitude. You roll them in your hands and find the carver has added a joke: the tail of a disappearing rat, a deliquescent plum fallen from a basket. Some of the netsuke are studies in running movement, so that your fingers move along a surface of uncoiling rope or spilt water. Others have small, congested movements that knot your touch: a girl in a wooden bath, a vortex of clam shells. Some do both, surprising you: an intricately ruffled dragon leans against a simple rock. You work your fingers round the smoothness and stoniness of the ivory to meet this sudden density of dragon. There is often a supplementary pleasure in finding where the signature of the carver is placed, on the sole of a sandal, the end of a branch, the thorax of a hornet. When I look at these marks I think of the moves you make when you sign your name in Japan – the sweep of the brush into the ink, the first, plosive moment of contact, the… Read full this story
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