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Portland Japanese Garden presents “Fashion and Fantasy: The Art of Netsuke Carvings”

Fashion and Fantasy: The Art of Netsuke Carvings

PORTLAND, Ore. —February 4, 2022— Once immensely popular across Japan, netsuke (pronounced nets-keh), small accessories fashioned from wood, ivory, or porcelain, blurred the lines between function and art in their heyday. Fashion and Fantasy will showcase the fascinating world of these miniature Japanese carvings traditionally used to secure small pouches to men’s pocketless kimonos.

Japanese ivory netsuke of a rabbit with a bunch of loquats. Signed in rectangular reserve "Okatomo". 18th century. Photo by Heather Hawksford
Japanese ivory netsuke of a rabbit with a bunch of loquats. Signed in rectangular reserve “Okatomo”. 18th century. Photo by Heather Hawksford

The first netsuke were made of small, dried gourds, slender pieces of wood or bamboo sticks. These rudimentary toggles developed into exquisite artistic carvings with the help of a subversive and fashionable mercantile class. Netsuke developed into increasingly intricate, masterfully carved figures that displayed a delightful diversity of materials, styles and themes. Small and inconspicuous, netsuke encapsulated the aesthetic sense of iki, the fashionable, subdued elegance of the urban chic of Edo-period Japan.

Japanese ivory netsuke of two men with a hawk. Signed “Tomoyuki”. Mid 19th century. Photo by Heather Hawksford.

Drawing on a recent gift from The Netsuke Collection of James R. Coonan, Denise C. Bates and Lurline C. Menzies, this exhibition presents a glimpse into this little-known art form from pre-modern Japan. Each netsuke is highly detailed, imaginatively depicting people and animals from everyday life as well as folktales and fables. 

Digital Assets:

Info on the Exhibition:

Hours and Admissions: 
Media Contacts:    

Will Lerner | 503-542-9351 | [email protected]

Han Oh | 503-542-9310| [email protected]     

About Portland Japanese Garden:  

Portland Japanese Garden is a nonprofit organization originally founded in 1963 as a place for cross-cultural understanding following World War II. A hallmark in the City of Portland, the Garden was founded on the ideals of peace and mutual understanding between peoples and cultures. Portland Japanese Garden is considered the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan and the foremost Japanese cultural organization in North America.