We move into the next room and we’re all sitting down at this big, beautiful table—white tablecloth and the crystal and linen and all that. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. And then it comes!
Nancy, sitting next to me says, “Have you had any of the fresh escargot this season yet?”
I say, “What? Oh yeah.” Well, yes, yes, it’s a good season, hee hee.” You know, faking it all the way. And the next thing I know, in front of me is this plate of something which had always been rumored in our house that people somewhere, someplace, ate. And we never really believed it! And whenever it was mentioned they ate these things—“Oh, ugh!”
A plate of snails! With the little forks. Oh my God, snails! Snails! Ugh! And instantly inside of me—my meatloaf insides are immediately saying, “Oh, ugh, oh my God, this is all incredible!”
COMPACT LIKE A COILED RAT
What’s an authentic, what’s faux, a good netsuke, a bad netsuke? Right after World War II, Americans in Japan could buy from destitute Japanese, a handful of authentic netsuke for a couple of dollars. Today, ebay shows over four thousand “netsuke” for sale, most inaccurately described –and indeed, most of them faux, made for the innocent/ignorant/unwary. It’s difficult to find even a fairly decent one on the market for under $500 dollars. The faux (tiny, realistically carved recently made objects) can be gotten for under ten dollars and maybe (outrageously), for a couple of hundred. Among the easily discernable indicators are descriptions of “cute” or “bunny rabbit.” I confess that some of my early purchases are modern faux. (there are a few quality, modern carvers.)
Good netsuke are usually considered as having been used with traditional Japanese attire, and thus, are generally compact, so that outlying parts can’t easily break off during normal wear. Coiled unto themselves, some in a near-fetal position for self-protection. For me, an ultimate example is the often repeated style of a coiled rat. They were frequently made by the very highly regarded carvers named Masanao (18 and 19th century). Some can be encountered by googling “Masanao rat.” Here are a few, varying in ear shape, front toe positions, tail configuration, etc.:
Masanao 18th and/or 19th C.
My much less expensive copy is said to have been made by the modern,
last-of–the-family-line of Masanao carvers:
I’ve managed to buy a couple of inexpensive, older, authentic netsuke. A couple have pre-20th century dates attributed by major auction galleries. Occasionally I’ll encounter one that I’m rather sure is “real” based on a couple of attributes: style; some wear-and-tear through normal use (minor wear and patina are often a positive attribute).
The evolution of netsuke appears to have begun when people used some found object such as a tree root to use as a toggle that keeps the hanging object on a cord from slipping from the sash to which it’s attached. The esthetics of choice evolved over two centuries to the myriad subjects chosen and carved. When I encountered a netsuke made of the stag antler part between it and the deer’s skull (called the “pedicle”), I recognized it as an interesting example of an esthetic form harking back to netsuke’s natural beginnings. I believe it’s “authentic” because no modern carver-for-mass-market would waste his time on such a non-commercial effort–it’s not a cute little, realistic statue. Here are both sides of it:
The saw marks, and the metal flower motif on both sides
for the cord’s attachment hole, are the only non-natural elements.