Dressed To Impress

Dressed To Impress: Netsuke and Japanese Men's Fashion is now on display at The Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, England. This show uses the beautiful, intricate accessories worn by Japanese men during the Edo period (1615-1868) to provide a view into the everyday lives of 17th and 18th century Japan. As traditional Japanese garments often had no pockets, men needed space to store their wallets, pipes, tobacco and medicines, so their solution was to place these objects in small containers hung by cords from their outfits.

This resulted in a huge range of beautifully crafted, small baskets and boxes which were secured at the top of their cords by a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke. These fasteners soon became intricately decorated fashion accessories, and later an art form of their own as hand-crafted miniature sculptures. Dressed to Impress: Netsuke and Japanese Men's Fashion features a selection of netsuke chosen from over 2,300 in the British Museum’s collection, with more pieces added from The Museum of East Asian Art’s collection that show the range, beauty and excellent craftsmanship of these objects.

Netsuke come in a variety of forms and materials such as wood, porcelain, and ivory – a material that has since led to the slaughter of thousands of elephants in Asia and Africa (and the illegal trading of which is so rampant that over a ton of illegal ivory was crushed by The Wildlife Conservation Society in New York’s Times Square in 2015, demonstrating that illegal ivory trading would not be tolerated). The dark reality behind these artefacts makes their beauty a complicated one. Each idiosyncratic in style and character, the netsuke on show include a goldfish, a Chinese boy holding a lion mask and a drum and fox’s mask. Also on display are a number of inrōs (the containers in which Japanese men’s objects were held), a sword, a bespoke male kimono and smoking accessories. All of these objects come together to give viewers a rare and distinct insight into the everyday lives of Japanese men through art and fashion.

Dressed to Impress: Netsuke & Japanese Men's Fashion, until 22 April 2018

The Museum of East Asian Art, 12 Bennett Street, Bath BA1 2QJ

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