A wood netsuke depicting the fisherman Urashima sat upon the back of the turtle that he has saved from death. As thanks for his good deed, the turtle has carried him to Ryūgū-jō, the Palace of the Dragon King of the Sea, Ryujin. Once there, he met a beautiful princess. He spent several days at the palace; when he left, he was given a tamatebako 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. A netsuke that perfectly depicts the central pair of this Japanese fairytale.
A near identical netsuke signed Goho was sold at Christie’s on Tuesday 5th July 1977 and is illustrated in the accompanying catalogue.
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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