Japanese Netsuke

Originally used as practical objects, Japanese netsuke has become an outlet for sculptors to express their creativity and a popular form of Japanese art worldwide. First discovered in 17th century Japan, netsuke serve as a solution to the lack of pockets in the Japanese kimono. These small fixtures help to hold multi-compartmented boxes known as "inro," which are used to carry possessions. Netsukes are worn above the obi of the kimono, fastened to a rope or cord which is passed under the obi, and strung onto the inro.

Japanese netsuke can be made from a wide variety of materials including ivory, hardwood, clay or porcelain, metal, and in rare cases, even walnuts or coral. The most common medium for creating is ivory netsuke. However, as obtaining ivory from a live animal is now illegal, production from this medium is extremely restricted. Mammoth ivory still remains in vast quantities throughout Asia, and is still used to carve ivory netsuke today.

Quick Facts 

  • Netsuke and inro became nearly obsolete during the early 20th century due to Western influence on Japanese clothing and the introduction of pockets
  • Antique netsuke is characterized by some wear within the holes of the netsuke figure as well as on the surface where the netsuke would have experienced friction against the clothing
  • A popular collecting category of netsuke is shunga. Shunga, meaning "spring," are sculptural objects have been historically popular among wealthy collectors and given as gifts to newlyweds
  • Check below to find Netsuke for sale. For more information about the origins of Japanese netsuke, view our Netsuke buyer's guide on the Invaluable blog.

Recommended Items at Auction

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Masatsuga: ivory netsuke of woman. 19th century.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Masatsuga: ivory netsuke of woman. 19th century.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $100- $200
$502 Bids
Lot Of Miniature Netsukes
Oct 23, 11:00 AM EDT
Lot Of Miniature Netsukes
by Gulfcoast Coin and Jewelry
Est: $150- $250
$262 Bids
Lot Of Miniature Netsukes
Oct 23, 11:00 AM EDT
Lot Of Miniature Netsukes
by Gulfcoast Coin and Jewelry
Est: $200- $400
$262 Bids
Wood netsuke of Daruma signed Masanao.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Wood netsuke of Daruma signed Masanao.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $400- $600
$2102 Bids
A RARE WOOD NETSUKE OF A FUGU
Oct 29, 1:00 PM CEST
A RARE WOOD NETSUKE OF A FUGU
by Galerie Zacke Vienna
Est: €750- €1,500
€7501 Bid
Oni mit Glockentrommel, japanische Netsuke aus Hartholz
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CEST
Oni mit Glockentrommel, japanische Netsuke aus Hartholz
by K&K – Auktionen in Heidelberg
Est: €150- €200
€201 Bid
ANTIQUE WOOD MASK NETSUKE
Oct 19, 10:00 AM PDT
ANTIQUE WOOD MASK NETSUKE
by I.M. Chait Gallery
Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
Netsuke Sumo Wrestler Figurine
Oct 23, 11:00 AM EDT
Netsuke Sumo Wrestler Figurine
by Gulfcoast Coin and Jewelry
Est: $250- $300
$1001 Bid
Netsuke, Japan, 19th/20th cent
Nov 04, 10:00 AM CET
Netsuke, Japan, 19th/20th cent
by Historia Auktionshaus
Est: €0- €0
€601 Bid
Wood netsuke of severed arm.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Wood netsuke of severed arm.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
Harumitsu: wood netsuke of a rooster, 19th century
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Harumitsu: wood netsuke of a rooster, 19th century
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $800- $1,000
$4001 Bid
Wood netsuke of dragon in jewel, 19th century.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Wood netsuke of dragon in jewel, 19th century.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
Four carved Netsuke figurines
Oct 20, 11:00 AM CDT
Four carved Netsuke figurines
by Jaremos
Est: $100- $300
$501 Bid
Japanese Carved Netsuke
Oct 27, 7:00 AM PDT
Japanese Carved Netsuke
by The Popular Auction, LLC
Est: $100- $200
$501 Bid
Japanese Netsuke Animals
Oct 27, 6:00 PM EDT
Japanese Netsuke Animals
by Kodner Galleries
Est: $50- $150
$251 Bid
Ivory netsuke rat, coin purse and mushroom, 19th C
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Ivory netsuke rat, coin purse and mushroom, 19th C
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
Ivory netsuke of a Gama Senin, 19th century.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Ivory netsuke of a Gama Senin, 19th century.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
Seigyoku: wood netsuke of pair of Yokai, 19th C.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Seigyoku: wood netsuke of pair of Yokai, 19th C.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $600- $800
$3001 Bid
Masakazu: wood netsuke of toad, 19th century.
Oct 26, 3:00 PM EDT
Masakazu: wood netsuke of toad, 19th century.
by Quinn's Auction Galleries
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
LOT OF 4 JAPANESE ANTIQUE NETSUKE CARVING STATUE
Oct 28, 9:00 AM EDT
LOT OF 4 JAPANESE ANTIQUE NETSUKE CARVING STATUE
by Affiliated Auctions & Realty LLC
Est: $30- $80
$100 Bids
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Estate Japanese Signed Wood Netsuke
Oct 22, 11:00 AM PDT
Estate Japanese Signed Wood Netsuke
by Wealthier Art & Auction
Est: $50- $60
$100 Bids
Zwei ironische Szenen, japanische Netsuke und Okimono aus Edelholz
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CEST
Zwei ironische Szenen, japanische Netsuke und Okimono aus Edelholz
by K&K – Auktionen in Heidelberg
Est: €150- €200
€200 Bids
Frau und Phallus, zwei japanische Shunga-Netsuke aus Edelholz
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CEST
Frau und Phallus, zwei japanische Shunga-Netsuke aus Edelholz
by K&K – Auktionen in Heidelberg
Est: €200- €250
€200 Bids
Japan wooden netsuke carved with 19th century masks Sizes: L=35mm l=35mm Weight (K): 0,009
Oct 31, 10:00 AM CET
Japan wooden netsuke carved with 19th century masks Sizes: L=35mm l=35mm Weight (K): 0,009
by Goldfield Auction
Est: €300- €600
€3000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Japanese Netsuke


Galerie Zacke Vienna

Galerie Zacke Vienna

Quinn's Auction Galleries

Quinn's Auction Galleries

Il Ponte Auction House

Il Ponte Auction House

Historia Auktionshaus

Historia Auktionshaus