Length: 8.000 cm
Height: 8.000 cm
Gift of Professor and Mrs John Hull Grundy
Okimono of turtles, by Masanao
Edo period, late 19th century AD
The turtle of a thousand years
This is typical of the okimono (ornaments) of the period which were made for display in the tokonoma alcove of a formal reception room in a Japanese house. There were many carvers of the name Masanao at this time.
The kame (turtle or tortoise) of a thousand years was one of the four supernatural animals. The others were the tiger (sometimes replaced by the mythical kirin), the dragon and the phoenix. The tortoise was an emblem of long life, like the crane, bamboo and plum. It is sometimes shown with a very long tail which was supposed to grow once it reached five hundred years of age. Another name for it is the minogame, or 'raincoat turtle', referring to the growth of vegetation or seaweed which gradually covered its back as it grew older, making it look as if it was wearing a peasant's straw raincoat.