Netsuke - Snake and Tortoise
Netsuke - Snake and Tortoise
Netsuke - Snake and Tortoise

Netsuke - Snake and Tortoise


A snake encircles a tortoise, tightly wrapping itself around the tortoise’s carapace. Both the snake’s and the tortoise’s heads are turned slightly to the left, they appear to be looking at the same point in the distance. The snake’s scales are delicately incised, especially the larger ones to its head. The tortoise’s limbs, neck and feet are all well carved. The carapace is carved in realistic form with nice linework. To the underside, the himotoshi is formed by two circular holes on either side of the snake’s body. Both creatures’ eyes are double-inlaid with yellow horn and black pupils.

The pairing of snake and tortoise symbolises the north and winter. Owing to the similarities in the form of their heads, it was believed that they were male and female of the same species. It was also believed that they procreated via thought alone. This could explain why our carver has placed the head of the snake perfectly above and central to the tortoise’s head. Maybe it’s not that they are simply looking at the same point in the distance, but that this symbolises the joining of their thoughts.

Circa 1880


5.4cm long

5cm wide

4cm tall

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