Netsuke – Kamatari and the Muge Hojiu No Tama

Netsuke – Kamatari and the Muge Hojiu No Tama


A large, old manju carved from walrus ivory. To the front, the body of a dragon and the face of a fisher-girl are visible amongst crashing waves. The action takes place around the side of the thick manju. Depicted is the legend of Kamatari and the Muge Hojiu No Tama, a long tale involving Kamatari’s daughter, who was married to the Chinese Emperor Tai Tsung (627–650 A.D.). I have condensed the story below as told in Henri L Joly, Legend in Japanese Art:

Kamatari’s daughter wished to build a temple in her homeland of Japan. To do so, she collected many prized treasures from the three kingdoms of China, Japan, and India. Kamatari’s retainer, Manko, was charged with bringing the treasures back to Japan. However, Ryujin decided he wanted the Tama for himself. Manko battled Ryujin’s servants, repelling the demons’ many attempts. One day, a beautiful woman was pulled from the sea; Manko fell in love, and showed her the treasures. But she had been sent by Ryujin and stole the Tama. Upon his return, Manko committed suicide. Kamatari shaved his head and became a hermit. Later, Kamatari fell in love with a fisher-girl. She did not know his past but could sense that he carried a great weight. One day, he told her of his past. Once she understood, she longed for him to return home to his life in court but knew she could not join him, due to the strict laws surrounding marriage. She planned to commit suicide but before this, she wanted to return the lost Tama to Kamatari. She swam to sea faster than Kamatari’s boats could follow and did battle with a dragon, defeating it with a dagger. Sadly, when Kamatari found her she had died from the poisonous claws of the dragon, but she had saved the Tama for Kamatari and his daughter.

This netsuke shows the brave fisher-girl swimming, with the dragon in hot pursuit. In one hand she holds a dagger and in the other is the Muge Hojiu No Tama. The himotoshi is formed from two equal holes to the rear, and the surface of the material is beautifully coloured.

Signed - Tomochika (Chikuyosai Tomochika I)
Late 18th century

Length: 6cm
Width: 4.6cm
Depth: 2.2cm

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