unsigned wood netsuke

19th century

oni with a club

height 2 1/8 in., 5.4 cm

the oni stands facing forward while holding a tall club, the loop handle of the weapon resting against the side of his head, he bites his lower lip and leans forward slightly, the black pupils of his eyes inlaid; signed with kao (unidentified) on tip of club unsigned, 19th century

This netsuke brings to mind the Japanese proverb: oni ni kanabo (lit. an iron club for a demon), which suggests that only great power should be given to the strong. This wisdom is all the more amusing when illustrated by this dimunitive oni with his large club. Oni holding large clubs are often found at the gates of onsen (hot springs) in Jigoku-dani (lit. 'Hell Valley') in Beppu on Kyushu. The sulphurous vapors and hot waters were thought to emerge from fractures reaching down to the realm of Emma-O, the King of Hell.

The unidentified kao on the tip of the club is very similar to a kao found on a wood seal netsuke of a shishi illustrated in Bushell, Netsuke Familiar & Unfamiliar (1975), p. 201, no. 600.

front view


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Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
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site last updated
May 20, 2022

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475