By Emily Horn, DOMA Social Media Assistant

The kimono, a long, loose robe with wide sleeves and tied with a sash, had no pockets. Women would tuck small personal items into their sleeves but men preferred to suspend their tobacco pouches, pipes, purses or writing utensils on a cord from their sash.

These hanging objects were called sagemono. To stop the cord from slipping through the sash, a small toggle was attached called a netsuke (pronounced net-skey). The entire ensemble was worn at the waist and functioned as a removable pocket.

For tiny art, Japanese netsuke are an enormous subject. Netsuke subjects portrayed in netsuke include legends, folklore, history, animals, flowers, insects, mythological creatures and more. Styles range from the intensely realistic to the abstract and surreal.

Netsuke (A Kappa Caught in a Clam Shell)


Netsuke (A Kappa Caught in a Clam Shell), Kyogyoku, 1931.500.065

kappa (river-child) is an amphibious yōkai (are a class of supernatural monsters) demon found in traditional Japanese folklore. They are typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle-like carapace on their backs. A depression on its head, called its “dish,” retains water, and if this is damaged or its liquid is spilled, the kappa is severely weakened. As water monsters, kappa have been blamed for drownings, and are often said to try to lure people into water and pull them in with their great skill at wrestling.

Netsuke (A Tengu Coming out of Its Shell)

MuseumBSU_2418_fullTengu (heavenly dog) are a type of legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion. Although the name is from a dog-like Chinese demon, the tengu were originally thought to take the forms of birds of prey, and they are traditionally depicted with both human and avian characteristics. Chinese literature assigns this creature a variety of descriptions, but most often it is a fierce canine monster that resembles a shooting star or comet. It makes a noise like thunder and brings war wherever it falls.