Rakan with mokugyo and go game
Please find hereafter more specific terms related to the category okimono
When talking about miniature
sculptures, the first object that comes to our mind is the netsuke. Okimono, the larger
ornamental carvings, are much less popular. They were made as ornaments for the tokonoma.
Like netsuke, they represent Japanese habits and mythology. Buddhist idols and Noh masks
inspired many artists when creating these miniature sculptures. They were made out of wood
and ivory and very often sculptured by netsuke carvers during the Meiji period. Wood was
the only material employed during different centuries both in temples and Japanese
housing. Around the 18th century the use of ivory increased. At the beginning of this
century, the samisen (a stringed instrument) music became very popular. The plectrum to
play this instrument was made out of the centre part of the tusk of an elephant. The small
pieces that were left over were ideal for the carving of netsuke and, at a later stage,
The Westernisation brought far-reaching changes to Japan. Artists had to adapt
their concepts to the demand of the Western world. As a result of the influence from the
West, pockets were now added to the Japanese kimono, eliminating the need for netsuke.
During the Meiji period netsuke were still produced for collectors, but more and more
netsuke carvers began to focus on okimono. Because of the great demand for okimono for
export, many artists started to produce objects of an inferior quality. However, there
were also carvers that created beautifully sculptured okimono and followed the traditional
high standard of their craft.
The classification of wood and ivory okimono can be done by
school (such as Kyoto or Tokyo schools), but the merit of each object leads to two trends
in okimono carving that make the classification more adequate. The first one sticks to the
Japanese tradition and can be recognized by strong modelling with striking poses, flowing
lines and strongly expressed emotions. Traces of round and flat chisel marks can be found
on some of these okimono. For the Japanese art lovers these chisel marks have the same
appeal as the brush strokes in painting. The demand from the West leads to the second
trend where good craftsmanship was characterised by a smooth surface without chisel marks.