Tanuki as a sake vendor

Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Netsuke: Tiny Treasures from Japan

I've been reading (or rather listening to) The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, which was recommended by my cousin Martina when she saw snapshots of my collectibles inventory work. It's about de Waal's plunge into his family's history upon inheriting a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke—small counterweights or toggles that allow someone to carry a Subscribe to get my newsletterpouch or small container on his belt (see complete assembly on the right). These utilitarian objects were exquisitely crafted and have been collected by Westerners for more than a century. They are bibelot (BEEB-loh), the French word for a small object of curiosity, rarity or beauty.

Listening to de Waal's tale led me to look more closely at the netsuke that Jim collected. We have— I counted them—21 of these tiny treasures, none of them more than a couple inches long. I fiddled with the photos and added the makers' signatures where I could find them. They are tiny little things that feel good in your hand—but I turn them into a Las Vegas attraction by blowing them up to gigantic proportions on my computer screen. Counting them and standardizing the photos, turning them into a slideshow (see Flickr album) transforms them from assorted bibelots (I just learned that word) into a collection.

Ours is not an old collection. Jim began accumulating a few, locally, long after the market peaked and became flooded with fakes and poor contemporary efforts to copy the classics. We haven't really done the research or consulted the experts to find out which are tiny treasures and which are just eye-candy, so... they still have mysteries to explore and stories to tell.


The Netsuke Survived by Roger Cohen. Review of The Hare with Amber Eyes."

Jan 6,2012


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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.