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The journey of the Hare Netsuke Essay


Using no more than 250 words, write a description of the object depicted in the two photographs. This object is small at just 3.7 cm in length. There seems to be no information on circumference or height measurements. The shape takes that of a hare, with what appears to be a somewhat oval base. Three of the paws also take shape at the base of the object, with the forth paw raise in the front. The head is of circular shape with a prominent nose and mouth cleverly carved out of a crisscross shape which makes it look classically simple. The hare eyes have been inlaid with amber gem stones that sparkle like fire which gives the appearance of possible life within the hare. The ears are pulled back. This could be for the hare to appear that it may be listening to some sort of noise in the distance.

This object appears to have been produced by hand carving, probably somewhere in Japan. The hare is made of Ivory which would most probably have been from an Asian elephant but could also have been made using ivory from another mammalian species. The ivory appears to have been either buffed and polished to give it a high glossy finish or has been coated with a varnish for the same effect. The hare appears to have some small varieties in colour though mostly being a cream colour. It has smaller darker parts with colour appearing brownish around the carved details such as the mouth, nose, ears and front right paw. This was likely caused by the object ageing over the years since its production.


Write a short ‘biography’ of this object, addressing the question of how its function, status and meaning may have changed over time.


In this short biography I will attempt to discover the journey of the hare netsuke from its production through to its consumption and afterlife. I will research whom has owned this beautiful object and how far it has journeyed around the world in its cycle.


This netsuke would have begun its first stage of production as a piece of Ivory. Most likely taken from the tusk of an elephant somewhere in Asia. The ivory would have been cut from the mammal and taken or sold to Masatoshi Osaka. I believe the netsuke to be crafted by Masatoshi Osaka in the 19th century as his signature appears on the base of the netsuke (after extensive research I cannot seem to find very specific details of its production). The netsuke appears to be carved by hand most probably using smaller carving tools. After production the netsuke may have been used by others for its primary purpose. This purpose was to hold objects on rope which would then hang from a kimono. This was in place of pockets which the kimono did not have. The netsuke would stop the belongings of the wearer falling off. This netsuke may have been worn by a rich Japanese man to advertise his social status or wealth as was tradition with highly attractive and expensive netsuke in the 18th and 19th century.

However the first purchase of this netsuke I can dates back to the 1870s in Japan, along with 263 other netsuke of different designs. (Waal, 2010) The purchase was made by an antique dealer from Paris, France known as Sichel. After bringing this netsuke back from Japan to Paris Sichel then sells all 264 netsuke to a man named Charles Ephrussi. (cook, 2010) Ephrussi was a member of a very well-known and wealthy family of Jewish bankers from the time. It was known that Charles would have the netsuke displayed in a black lacquer vitrine. (Waal, 2010) Charles eventually decided to present this netsuke along with the others to family members Viktor and Emmy Ephrussi whom lived in Vienna, Austria as a wedding gift. The couple appeared to keep the netsuke hidden from public view in a cabinet located in Emmys dressing room, eventually allowing the netsuke to be used as toys for their children to play with. (Waal, 2010)

However during World War 2 in March 1938 the Nazis would enter the Ephrussi mansion and begin to steal some of the family’s more expensive possessions and destroy other possessions. The Ephrussi family had no choice but to flee for their lives leaving behind everything they had left. (Cortazzi, 2010) Unbeknownst to the Ephrussi family a maid from their home in Austria named Anna was able to hide the netsuke inside of a feather mattress within the house and preserve all of them until the family was able to return. (cook, 2010) Following the end of the war Elisabeth Ephrussi (daughter of Viktor and the late Emmy) would travel back to Austria to be reunited with the Netsuke. The netsuke would remain in the possession of Elisabeth until inherited by another family member, Elisabeth’s son Ignace Leo Ephrussi whom lived in Japan at the time of inheritance.

Ignace was extremely fascinated by the netsuke studying the small object for pleasure. (Cortazzi, 2010) He shared this interest with his nephew Edmund de Waal. Edmund would first see the netsuke in 1991 but would later inherit all of them including the hare. This particular netsuke features in the title of De Waals book The Hare with the Amber Eyes and tells a story of not only the Ephrussi family but the life of this netsuke and the 263 that journeyed with it. This netsuke and the other 263 that were originally purchased with it are still in the possession of Edmund de Waal today. (Waal, 2010) They are displayed in a cabinet in Waal’s home in London, where he still studies them.


Throughout the biography we have learned more on the journey of the amber eyed hare netsuke. Though there are very little details to be found on the netsukes production, I was able to examine the details of the netsukes consumption and afterlife more closely. This small object has journeyed over Japan and Europe, survived being hidden and spared pilferage or destruction at the hands of the Nazis. It was miraculously then returned to the rightful owners. The netsuke is steeped not only in its own rich history but that of the Ephrussi family also.

Throughout this biography I have learned the Netsuke has spent most of its life being displayed for viewing purposes but it has also been studied further by certain family members (Ignace Ephrussi and De Waal). On occasion the netsuke was also used as toys for the children of Emmy Ephrussi. The netsuke has been gifted throughout time to different members within the Ephrussi family and I believe it will continue to do so for many years to come.

cook, r., 2010. Review 2: The Hare with Amber eyes. unknown: the gardian newspaper. Cortazzi, S. H., 2010. Hare with the amber eyes reveiw. s.l.:japansociety.org.uk. Waal, D., 2010. Writing a very personal book.

Available at: http://www.edmunddewaal.com/writing/the-hare-with-amber-eyes/about-the-book/essay/ [Accessed 10.3.15 march 2015].

cook, r., 2010. Review 2: The Hare with Amber eyes. unknown: the gardian newspaper. Cortazzi, S. H., 2010. Hare with the amber eyes reveiw. s.l.:japansociety.org.uk. Waal, D., 2010. Writing a very personal book. [Online]

Available at: http://www.edmunddewaal.com/writing/the-hare-with-amber-eyes/about-the-book/essay/ [Accessed 10.3.15 march 2015].

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