18 May 2021—31 July 2022

Netsuke: Miniature masterpieces from Japan

This display has now finished, but you can still explore our online exhibition.

For the first time, 75 netsuke from Bristol’s collection will go on display in the Eastern Art Gallery.

These finely carved miniature sculptures were Japan’s solution to a lack of pockets in men’s kimono and other clothing.

Each one is unique and they depict a huge range of subjects from Japanese popular culture – animals, mythical creatures and people as well legendary gods and heroes. Marvel at the breathtaking carving skills and the huge range of stories they tell.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), men would hang small personal items on woven silk cords and tuck them into their sashes at the waist. Netsuke acted as toggles to stop the suspended objects from slipping.

When western clothing with pockets became increasingly fashionable in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), there was a declining demand for them. Carvers turned their skills toward intricate ornamental carvings called okimono. As purely decorative items, okimono usually have more delicate parts and are slightly larger than netsuke.

Both netsuke and okimono offer a fascinating glimpse into popular Japanese culture.

View this exhibition online

Fascinated by netsuke? We’ve picked our top ten favourites to give you a flavour of the collection!