Dressed to impress:
netsuke and Japanese men’s fashion

19 June – 17 August 2014

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Objects in focus

Supported by

Recommend this exhibition

This display features a selection of delightfully detailed netsuke and other traditional Japanese male accessories.

Step into Edo, one of the biggest cities in the world in the 18th century – now modern-day Tokyo. Discover the art of Japanese male fashion in this sophisticated urban centre, where men wore fashionable garments and carefully chosen accessories to demonstrate their status and personal style.

Netsuke (pronounced net-ské) are intricately carved toggles that were worn by Japanese men during the Edo period (1615–1868) to prevent dangling items (sagemono), hanging from a sash (obi) tied around a kimono, from falling to the ground. Netsuke were used by all classes of society, but in particular by merchants who wanted to demonstrate their wealth and taste. Much like European fob watches and cufflinks they revealed the sartorial taste of the wearer. Netsuke come in a variety of forms and materials such as wood, ivory and porcelain, and are now highly collectible.

Netsuke are often displayed as miniature sculptures, but this display will show how they were worn as part of a complete outfit. Apart from a group of some of the Museum’s most stunning netsuke, a bespoke kimono, an inro (a case for holding small objects), a sword, and smoking accessories will also be on display.

  • Silver turtle netsuke

    Silver turtle netsuke. Made by Kikugawa in Japan, late 1800s

  • Goldfish netsuke

    Goldfish netsuke. Made by Masanao I of Ise, Japan, early 1800s

  • Rat netsuke

    Sleeping rat netsuke. Made by Masanao of Kyoto, Japan, late 1700s

  • Boy netsuke

    Netsuke of a Chinese boy holding a mask for a lion dance. Unsigned, Japan, early 1800s

  • Musicians netsuke

    Netsuke of a Chinese couple playing a flute. Unsigned, Japan, about 1700


Netsuke: 100 miniature masterpieces from Japan

Netsuke: 100 miniature masterpieces from Japan

'This tremendous book', writes artist and author Edmund de Waal, 'brings one of the world’s greatest collections of netsuke to life’. Edition in paperback, including 200 colour illustrations.

Buy the catalogue 


Wooden replica netsuke from the British Museum shop

Start your own netsuke collection

A series of hand-finished netsuke replicas, intricately carved in boxwood, are available to buy from the British Museum shop.

Shop online