Ainu—aboriginal race of Caucasians, the temnants of whom now live around Shiraoi in Hokkaido

Ama—woman diver

Ama geta—wet weather clogs

anko—a salt water fish

arazuki—rough carvings

Ashinaga—Tenaga(Long legs, Long Arms)—two legendary races, one with very long legs and very short arms, the other with very long arms and very short legs. Usually shown together.

atari—pencil marks in sketching on wood or ivory

bakemono—monsters or goblins, usually in human form

baku—mythological creature who devours bad dreams. Usually depicted with shortened elephant trunk.

Bishamon—one of seven Happy Gods(shichi—fukujin). He is guardian of Buddha, defender against evil. Often considered god of wealth and prosperity.

biwa—Japanese lute

bonsai—artistically dwarfed plants and trees

bungyo—mass produced (or division) work, with rough carving done by one person, final carving by at least one other—all from a pre–designated design

chadana—cabinet for storing tea utensils

chanoyu—tea ceremony

Chokaro—Japanese sennin who has a magic mule(or horse0 which emerges from a ground on command to take Chokaro thousands of miles a day wherever he wants to go.

Daruma—Indian Buddha(Bodhidharma) who introduced Zen into Japan. Often humorously portrayed in netsuke for his long meditations.

dobin–mushi—a clear broth filled with vegetable, chicken, and fish

Dosojin—folk deity of fecundity and fertility, roadside god of love, protector of children. often depicted in wayside stone sculpture.

Edo—Historical period (also called Tokugawa):1603–1868

Emma–O(also Emma dai-O)—King of the Buddhist hell and judge of the dead

Endo Morito—see Kesa

enoki—type of mushroom

Fukurokuju—one of Seven Happy Gods. God of wisdom, longevity, and wealth. Usually accompanied by a crane, or a long–tailed tortoise, a deer, and/or a scroll.

futon—mattress–like quilt

gakyo–rojin,—old man crazy about painting as self–styled by Hokusai at age of 80

geisha—professional woman entertainer

genkan—entry, or shoe–receiving room

Gentoku—Chinese emperor and one of the three famous Han generals, the others being Kanryu and Choi. Gentoku’s most famous exploit was his escape from his enemies by leaping on horseback over a deep ravine.

geta—wood clogs. koma–geta are solid lacquered clogs, ama geta are wet weather clogs.

giri ninjo—social courtesies and human sympathies

go–Japanese board–and–counters game similar to chess

gosu—incense box

hagilespedeza japonica, or bush clover

haiku—seventeen–syllable poem, terse in its imagery

hashioki—chopstick rests

Heian—Japanese historical period:794–1185

hibachi—vessel for charcoal fire

himotoshi—pair of holes channeled into netsuke for attachment of cord

hiragana—Japanese cursive writing

hoko doll—doll made of cotton–filled silk cloth, placed by the head of a newborn child with a prayer for baby’s health and happiness

hossu—Buddhist priest’s whisk, with white hair

hozuki—Japanese lantern plant(sometimes called Chinese lantern plant)

ibushi—incense smoke

ichimegasa—large straw hat

ikiryo—phantom of a living woman

inari—fox deity, god of rice and harvests

inro—medicine or seal case of several compartments, attached by cords to a netsuke

iroha karuta—Japanese alphabet cards

issaku netsuke—a netsuke made completely by one person, from design through finishing

Issun Boshi—legendary inch–high boy (similar to Tom Thumb) credited with many exploits

iwaenogu—paint made of iron or copper ore

iwashi—a kind of sardine

jigazo—self portrait


Kabuki—stylized Japanese theater composed of drama, music, and dance, in which all roles are played by men. Called the common people’s theater.

kagamibuta—type of netsuke with disc(usually metal) set into shallow round bowl (usually ivory or wood)

kakihan—artist’s mark or written seal

Kakure Kirishitan—clandestine or hidden Christian

Kaneko—Kaneko Kugutsune, legendary powerful woman who stopped a runway horse by stepping on his loose halter

kanji—Chinese characters in writing

Kanyu—one of three famous Han generals (others being Gentoku and Chohi). Called “the lord of splendid black beard” which he continually strokes. Usually shown carrying halberd.

kappa—mythical river creature with hollow on top of head containing mysterious fluid said to be the source of its power. Mischievous, sometimes evil, often portrayed with cucumber, its favorite food.

katabori—figure carving. Netsuke carved in the round.

kendo—Japanese fencing

Kesa—a noblewoman and wife of Watanabe Wataru, who was passionately desired by Endo Morito. She deliberately changed beds with her husband one night in order to save her honor and his life. Instead of cutting off Watanabe“s head, Endo Morito cut off hers. As penance he stood three weeks under an icy waterfall, then he became a monk, changing his name to Mongaku.

Kikujido—the chrysanthemum boy, an exile who wrote poems and magic words on chrysanthemum petals which he floated downstream

kiri—paulownia wood

kirikane—technique of applying small geometric pieces of metallic foil to wet lacquer

kirin—legendary animal with a horn and flaming hide—the Chinese k’irin, similar to one–horned unicorn.

Kiyohime—maiden passionately in love with the priest Anchin. The tragic climax of the affair came at the Dojo–ji Temple where Anchin tried to hide under the temple bell. the spurned Kiyohime turned herself into a demon serpent, wrapped herself around the bell and melted it in the flames of her fury. The unhappy Anchin was consumed inside.

koma–geta—solid lacquered clogs

koshi—long vertical shoji panels


Living National Treasure—artist or draftsman so designated and honored by the Japanese Government in its unique system of fostering traditional arts and crafts

magatama—comma–shaped symbol associated with beginnings of Japan

maiko—young apprentice geisha

makie–shi—lacquer master

manju—a type of netsuke usually round and flat in the shape of Japanese rice cake, either solid or two–piece

maru—round, in design or shape

minogame—long–tailed turtle of vast age, symbol of longevity

mon—a family badge (sometimes called crest) formerly worn by nobility of Japan and by their retainers and samurai to denote family to which they belong, later by all classes

nagauta—traditional dance music

nashi—Japanese pear with roughened skin, whence nashiji lacquer gets its name

National Treasure—Japanese work of art from any age, so designated by the Government, which must be kept in the country

netsuke–shi—a netsuke carver

Noh(or No)—the classical lyric drama of Japan, patronized by the nobility, in which actors wear masks and beautiful robes

nyoji—a scepter, with slightly curved flat blade and broadened head

obi—sash, wide belt

obidome—slide fastener used on an obi cord, a sash clip

ojime—a single–holed sliding bead which controls the tension on the cord connecting the netsuke with the sagemono (hanging thing—inro, pouch, etc.)

Okame—goddess of mirth and folly, personification of ugly good–natured woman. also known as Uzume, Otafuku, Ofuku.

okimonoobject–d’ art for the tokonoma or shelf, usually carved of ivory or wood

okuge(or Kuge)—court noble

oni—small Japanese devil or demon. Oni no nembutsu: an oni who, with his horns removed by a priest, converts to Buddhism, seriously or not; often shown with rosary, or begging as a monk. Oni Yarai or Setsubun Oni: an oni trying to flee from beans thrown at him, to drive away evil spirits, at Setsubun, or bean–throwing, festival that marks the beginning of spring.

oshibori—damp towel offered at beginning and end of meal

oshidori—Mandarin duck

Otafuku(or Ofuku)—see Okame. Otafuku is the version of Okame which personifies hypocritical modesty and half–concealed eroticism.

Raijin(also Raiden, also Fuminari)—god of thunder, usually shown with a drum or circle of drums. Often accompanied by Fúten(Fujin) the god of wind.

Rakan—protectors of Buddhist faith who attain enlightenment through their own efforts. Rakan are ascetics or holy men, with enlarged earlobes and often with haloes around their shaven heads. Rakan Inkada sonja has very long hanging eyelashes and holds an upright juiscepter.

ramma—decorated transom

rokuro—hand drill or wheel

Rosei’s dream—The Chinese Rosei, leaving his village to seek his fortune in the world, stopped en route for a simple meal at an inn. While it was being prepared, he fell asleep and dreamed that he had married the Emperor’s daughter and then became Emperor himself. Rudely awakened by the maid saying that his millet was ready, he took comfort from the thought that life is but an empty dream, and he returned home content.

ryokan—Japanese–style inn

ryusa—an openwork form of manju netsuke, made hollow inside by the turning lathe

sake—rice wine

samisen(or shamisen)—musical instrument with three strings, similar to banjo, played with large plectrum

samurai—a warrior or member of military class

Saru kani kassen—tale of the battle of the crab and the monkey, in which, after a series of misfortunes, the crab finally gets revenge on the cruel and selfish monkey

sashi—elongated netsuke with cord holes at one end, worn thrust through the sash

sashimi—sliced raw fish

sembei—rice crackers


sennin—demi–gods with supernatural powers of various kinds and with peculiars attributes. They lived very long lives and dwelt as hermits in the mountains.

senryu—short poem, realistic, humorous, earthy and satirical

Setsubun—see Setsubun Oni

sha—“copied,” copy

Sharaku—famous woodblock artist whose dramatic prints of actors were made the end of the 18th century

sharime—a file for ivory carving

shiage—finish carving

shikishi ningyo—type of doll made with scenes and figures

shirasu—whitebait, the young of various fish

shishi—Chinese lion(also called Fu–dog, karashishi,) the guardian of temple

shogun—military ruler, commander–in–chief. Used especially to designate the Tokugawa rulers of Edo period.

shoji—screens, windows, and doors with paper panes

Shojo—mythical long—red–haired creature who drinks huge amounts of sake

Shoki—legendary Chinese hero whose mission in life was to capture oni and demons. In netsuke often shown at the mercy of the demons he is seeking.

shunmin—snooze, as used here

Sokenkisho—literally “Appreciation of Superior Sword Fittings.” a book published in 1781, the first in any language in which netsuke and netsuke–shi were recorded.

soramame—large green beans

sumi—ink, ink stick

suminagashi—paper marbled with sumi (and sometimes lacquer) in a water process

sumo—wrestling, Japanese style

sushi—vinegared fish and rice

sutra—Buddhist scripture



takarabune—treasure ship, carrying the Seven Gods of Good Fortune and a cargo of magic things

Tale of Genji—famous novel of the tenth(or early eleventh) century written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu

tanka—thirty–one–syllable Japanese poem

tansu—chest of drawers


tanuki bozu—badger priest

tatami—reed–covered thick mats used to line floors

Tekkai—the sennin who could blow his spirit into space and then travel anywhere with incredible swiftness. Called upon to make a trip to heaven, his soul took flight, leaving his body behind. On tekkai's return seven days later, his body was gone and he took the body of the corpse of a lame beggar nearby. Hence the lame leg and supportive crutch seen in most depictions of Tekkai.

tempura—deep–fried fish and vegetables

Tenaga—see Ashinaga

teriyaki—fish or meat broiled and glazed with a mixture of soy sauce and sake (or sweet wine)

to—carved by, literally “knife–cut”

to–bijin—beauty, from Tang Dynasty

tokonoma—alcove in Japanese home where ornaments and scrolls are placed for aesthetic enjoyment and worship

Tokugawa—family or rulers of the Edo period (often called the Tokugawa period)

tokusa—rough–stemmed grass or reed used for polishing and scouring

Tomoe–gozen—the brave, beautiful, and courageous consort of Yohinaka Kiso who fought by his side in many battles during the twelfth century

tonoko—powder used in polishing swords, knives, etc.


tsuba—sword guard

tsutsugamushi—disease–carrying parasite

ukibori—“raised carving.” Relief effect similar in appearance to embossing.

ukiyoe—woodblock print of the “floating world“


umimatsu—sea pine, a natural coral that ranges in color from black to dark red or deep orange.

umoregi—fossil wood

urushi—sap of the lacquer tree, Rhus vernicifera, the basis of all japanese art lacquer

yakitori—pieces of chicken, skewered and broiled

yasha—liquid stain made from the small cones of the yashabushi tree, used for staining ivory


Zen—form of Buddhism said to have been introduced into japan by Daruma

zodiac—in the orient, the twelve animals used to represent the zodiacal year, month, and day, even hour, in rotation: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, sheep (or goat), monkey, cock, dog, boar

zogan—inlaying of bits of gold and other metal