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  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1825-1875 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Ohara Mitsuhiro (maker)
    Kaigyokusai Masatsugu (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and stained ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Clarke-Thornhill Gift

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Japan, Room 45, The Toshiba Gallery, case 8

The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hard-wearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of an octopus caught in a trap.

From the 18th century onwards, netsuke were increasingly signed with the caver’s name. This example is signed ‘Mitsuhiro’ and ‘octopus and shells by Kaigyoku’. Ohara Mitsuhiro (1810-1875) and Kaigyokusai Masatsugu (1813-1892) were the two greatest 19th-century netsuke carvers from Osaka, a centre of netsuke making. Both artists worked mostly in ivory, carving immensely fine detail. This netsuke is important partly because it is the product of a collaboration by the two great netsuke carvers, but also for its superb quality of workmanship and its playful subject. It depicts an octopus trap covered in limpets. An octopus is already inside the trap, though it cannot immediately be seen by wearers or viewers, who gets a surprise when they turn it over.

Physical description

This carved and stained ivory netsuke is in the form of an octopus caught in an octopus trap.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


ca. 1825-1875 (made)


Ohara Mitsuhiro (maker)
Kaigyokusai Masatsugu (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved and stained ivory


Height: 2.9 cm

Descriptive line

Netsuke of an octopus caught in a trap, carved and stained ivory, signed Ohara Mitsuhiro and Kaigykusai Masatsugu, ca. 1825 - 1875




Carving; Staining

Subjects depicted





East Asia Collection

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