Netsuke – Small Mythological carvings from Japan

Japanese Design Object

Hand Carved Boxwood Netsuke Figurine Carving: Buffalo Ox


The term is formed from the characters ne (根) (meaning “root”) and tsuke (付) (meaning “attached”). In English the word may be italicised or not, with American English tending to favour the former and British English the latter.

Netsuke: A little Japanese sculptured item of ivory, wood, or porcelain that ranges in height and width from one-half to three inches. Mythological images, flowers, animals, gods, and goddesses are among the carvings. Netsuke pieces were initially employed as toggles in the fourteenth century. A cord was slipped under and over the obi and through a hole in the netsuke. The cord was used to suspend a tiny medicine box, cosmetic box, handbag, or knife. These things were kept from slipping by the netsuke. The ancient ones, which are prized collectors’ items, are exquisitely detailed.

Netsuke is still made today, and some modern netsuke can fetch significant sums in the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, Japan, and elsewhere. Museums and souvenir stores sell inexpensive yet accurate copies.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

McDermott, C. (1997). Twentieth century design. Carlton.

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