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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Japanese
Title: Netsuke depicting a hare making rice cakes (mochi) on the moon
Medium: Ivory
Dimensions: 1 x 1 3/4 inches (2.5 x 4.4 cm)
Credit Line: Memorial gift from the Estate of Charles W. Hay, Class of 1925
Object Number: 73.005.188
Label Text: Because the word for moon (tsuki) sounds like another word that means “to pound rice,” the moon is associated with a mortar. According to Japanese folklore, a hare lives on the moon, pounding sticky rice in a large mortar to make mochi. The artist has cleverly carved this netsuke to depict the round mochi as a full moon in the clouds. In Japanese, the full moon is sometimes described as mochizuki (“mochi moon”). (“Moon," curated by Ellen Avril and presented at the Johnson Museum August 25, 2018-January 13, 2019)

This is an ivory netsuke in the form of a hare on the moon.

This netsuke was made in Japan.

Netsuke made from ivory, like this one, were hand-carved with knives, chisels and files of different sizes.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the standard attire for a well-dressed Japanese man consisted of a kimono tied with a sash. Because kimonos had no pockets, accessory bags and carrying cases (called sagemono: hanging things) were used to hold personal items such as money, medicines, tobacco and seals (a stamp carved with the owner’s name). Silken cords, attached to the sagemono, were threaded through the kimono sash (obi). A toggle, called a netsuke, was attached to the other end of the cord to prevent it from slipping through the sash. To see a netsuke with an inro—one popular type of sagemono that consisted of small, stacked compartments for holding medicines—search for object number 98.087.006 in the keyword search box.

The term netsuke comes from the words ne, meaning ‘root’ and tsuke, meaning ‘to fasten.’ Early netsuke may have been made from found objects such as pieces of roots, nuts, coral and bone. Over time, netsuke production became more and more varied, refined, and innovative, reaching a high point in the early 19th century. Subjects and decoration of netsuke and sagemono reflected the tastes and aspirations of their owners, often infused with an element of comic irony. As clothing traditions modernized, netsuke came to be collected separately from sagemono, and appreciated as sculptural gems in their own right.

According to Japanese folklore, a hare lives on the moon, pounding rice in a large mortar to make mochi, sticky cakes of rice. Notice that the hare in this sculpture holds the pestle in its right arm and stands on top of the mortar.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.