Dressed to Impress: Netsuke and Japanese Men's Fashion

Museum of East Asian Art

4 November 2017 – 22 April 2018

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Marvel at the intricacy and individuality of netsuke, the essential fashion accessory for Japanese men for over 300 years.

Chinese boy holding a mask for a lion dance, Mikawachi kilns (Saga prefecture), Japan, 1800s

Kimonos, the traditional form of Japanese dress, had no pockets. Women tucked small personal items into their sleeves, but men hung objects such as tobacco and medicine pouches, pipes and writing materials from their sash, and a netsuke was used to prevent the cord from slipping.

This small functional object became an important art form in Japan, elaborately carved in a wide range of materials, and many are believed to have been talismans. In this partnership exhibition, a selection chosen from the 2,300 in the British Museum are displayed alongside netsuke from the MEEA’s own collection. They include examples in wood, ivory and porcelain and the subjects range from a goldfish to a Chinese boy holding a mask for a lion dance.

Netsuke were worn by men of every social class but were a particular mark of wealth and status among merchants. A bespoke male kimono is on show to demonstrate how the outfit would have been worn in the 18th century, and other accessories from the Edo period (1615 – 1868) complement the display. They include several cases for small items, named inro, a sword and smoking accessories.

Venue information

Opening times

Tue – Sat,10am – 5pm
Sun, 12 – 5pm

Closed on Monday and Bank Holiday Mondays

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)