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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web 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 But what about all the other, less exceptional ivory netsuke in this family collection? Scott Reyburn, New York Times, 12 Apr. 2018 The artifacts being destroyed include piles of golf ball-sized Japanese sculptures, called netsuke, intricately carved into monkeys, rabbits, and other fanciful designs. Mary Esch, The Christian Science Monitor, 3 Aug. 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'netsuke.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 28 Nov. 2022.

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