net·​su·​ke ˈnets-(ˌ)kā How to pronounce netsuke (audio)
 also  ˈnet-sü-
plural netsuke or netsukes
: a small and often intricately carved toggle (as of wood or ivory) used to fasten a small container to a kimono sash

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Netsuke - the word in English can be pluralized as either netsuke or netsukes - were traditionally part of a man's dress, used to attach a medicine box, pipe, or tobacco pouch to the sash (called an obi) of a Japanese man's traditional kimono. Because the members of the newly risen merchant class, ranking below the samurai, were not permitted to wear jewelry, netsuke took the place of other personal adornment. With the end of the Tokugawa regime, leading to new customs of dress and the introduction of the cigarette shortly thereafter, netsuke became obsolete, though some were still carved to supply the demand of foreign residents and tourists.

Examples of netsuke in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web On the mantle, a collection of Japanese netsuke was displayed. The New Yorker, 17 Oct. 2023 And like the book, the show keeps circling back to the netsuke — unveiling them in groups, with four different glass cases placed at intervals — to underscore the endurance of these objects across a century of violence, discrimination and dispossession. New York Times, 29 Dec. 2021 But perhaps the stronger point is that the netsuke are not metaphors. Washington Post, 7 Jan. 2022 Charles later gave the netsuke as a wedding present to a cousin living in Vienna. Washington Post, 7 Jan. 2022 Among the netsuke are a persimmon with a ladybird, a snake on a lotus leaf, three mice playing and a monkey eating a peach. Sandee Brawarsky,, 22 Nov. 2021 Earlier in the year, Busby, who runs D-Day — a gallery and boutique in Woodstock, N.Y. — with her partner, Asa Nishijima, curated a show that juxtaposes antique netsuke against artists’ contemporary interpretations of them. Sophie Bew, New York Times, 2 Apr. 2020 The 12 zodiac animals are introduced in a series of large woodblock prints, as well as in a single 15/8 -inch densely inhabited netsuke, and an ingenious print of a unique creature combining the features of all 12. Karen Wilkin, WSJ, 25 June 2019 Among them was an ivory netsuke of a trembling hare with amber-inlaid eyes. Scott Reyburn, New York Times, 12 Apr. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'netsuke.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



First Known Use

1876, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of netsuke was in 1876


Dictionary Entries Near netsuke

Cite this Entry

“Netsuke.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

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