A wonderful example of an often-encountered theme. A large toad sits on top of a contorted and worn out old sandal in wood with inlaid eyes.
The toad’s back is covered with bumpy textured skin that falls away from a strongly defined channel running down the centre of the creature’s back. The chubby flank is left smooth, polished in contrast to the extensively worked sandal and the rest of the toad’s body. The straw sandal is exceptional and unusual in its composition. The strap twists over forming a section of openwork to the front that continues onto the underside. To the underside the rope forms a bar for the himotoshi and rings the smaller exit hole. The sandal is twisted and broken, symbolic of the long journey its owner has undertaken.
The Yamada Masaneo school were famous for toad on a sandal netsuke, but others also carved them, including Ryusai Issan from Iwashiro. The way that Ryusai carved the skin, eyes and the distinctive channel that runs down the back of the toad bears strong similarities to this unsigned example, but this one feels much better than the signed examples I’ve handled and owned. More refined, the skin is not as deeply carved but the lines are accentuated and rounder, giving the toad a more lifelike appearance. Combined with the unusual composition, it makes this a rare netsuke among the many examples.
The word “toad” (Kaeru) is pronounced the same as the verb “return home” (Kaeru). During the Edo period the movement of ordinary people was strongly controlled. Pilgrimage was one of the few exceptions where the average person was allowed to leave their home and see other parts of the country. The Ise Jingu shrine is an important place in the Shinto religion and was a popular pilgrimage site. The toad on a sandal netsuke made a perfect souvenir for a visitor to remember the long journey they had completed.
First half of the 19th century
Height: 2cm Width: 3.2cm Length: 4cm
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