Return to LACMA: More Netsuke

Yup, that's ivory.All right! All right! Calm down! You demand more netsuke and I am forced to comply.

Strap on your obi, kids. Here’s the first fob: A Fox Carrying a Drum by 19th century netsukeshi Kaigyo Kusai. It’s made of elephant tooth with a spot of sumi here and there. The imagery comes from the kabuki play Yoshitsune Sembon Zakura, in which a fox disguises itself as a human to infiltrate the Yoshitsune household. He wants to be close to a certain drum made from the skin of his parents. Yoshitsune is so touched by his filial devotion he gives him the drum. By wearing this fob you advertise either your own filial devotion, or a desire to skin Mom and Pop.

If you want to bug your eyes at the unpixelated original do this: Make your way to Los Angeles. Once in L.A., inquire from kind strangers the whereabouts of the La Brea Tar Pits. Follow their directions to Wilshire and Curson, but don’t stop there! Continue apace to 6th Street and park in the secret LACMA underground lot between Curson and Fairfax. Take the red elevator up to the land of the surface dwellers. Quickly now, quickly, head west on foot through the Ahmanson Building, passing under the Tony Smith sculpture, Smoke, and up the broad stairs. Forge grimly ahead westwards across the plaza — perhaps stopping to browse a bit in the excellent bookstore on your left — and follow the curvy, elevated walkway to the Japanese Pavilion. You can see the Tar Pits through the windows on the right.Upon entering that crazy-looking building, find the door on the far side of the foyer on your left: Enter without a moment’s hesitation. You are now in the precincts of Raymond and Frances Bushell Netsuke Gallery.

This fellow is ivory, too.Once inside you will see radially arranged plexiglass cases filled with netsuke like this one of a badger disguised as a priest. This guy shows up so often in Japanese folklore he gets his own name: Tanuki Bozu. “Bozu” means Buddhist priest. “Tanuki” is a shape-shifting animal. Sometimes he’s evil (“Kachi Kachi Yama”) sometimes he’s okay (“The Magic Teakettle”), but mostly he’s just comic and, um, earthy.

Speaking of comic and earthy, many of you have glared at me reproachfully and asked in tight, angry voices, “So exactly how are we supposed to pronounce this strange word netsuke anyhow? Does it rhyme with kabuki? With bouquet? With Little Luke? What? What?”

Well, if you want to sound smart and filled to the brim with expensive education, then pronounce it “NETS-KEH,”  with no emphasis. But if you really want to sound really, really smart, then pronounce it any darned way you want.

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One response to “Return to LACMA: More Netsuke

  1. Hey! The illustrations on that badger-teakettle page are from the book of Japanese fairy tales I had as a child!
    Visit that same page but navigate to the story about the toothpick soldiers; you will learn why toothpick people are a recurring theme in my nightmares. I think it is supposed to be a charming story; it is not.

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