A boxwood netsuke depicting the fisherman Urashima sat upon the back of the turtle that he saved from death. As thanks for his good deed, the turtle carried him to Ryūgū-jō, the Palace of the Dragon King of the Sea, where he met a beautiful princess. He spent several days at the palace; when he left, he was given a tamate-bako and made to promise never to open the box. The turtle duly carried Urashima back to his village but when he arrived he found that in just the few days he had spent in the palace, back home many hundreds of years had passed, and everyone he had known and loved was gone. Wanting to return to the palace, out of desperation he opened the box – he transformed into a white haired withered old man, his youth was taken.
Our netsuke depicts the age-ravaged Urashima upon the turtle’s back, his face drawn and pained. To one side his basket still contains a fish, with its head poking out. Our netsuke perfectly depicts the main characters of this Japanese fairytale.
Lazarnick, NIA, p.1341.
Rokusho 20, p.72, no.105.
Earle, Huthart, p.382, no.356.
Burditt, ICLS, p.42, fig.17.
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