The various lists of netsuke carvers in, for example, Ueda Reikichi’s Netsuke no kenkyū of 1954 (上田令吉『根附之研究』大阪：前田大文館, the copy I have, listing 1307 names), or also Neil Davey’s Netsuke of 1974 (listing 3425 names), might well suggest that large numbers of individuals – admittedly over a longer period of time – made a living carving netsuke, now even being referred to as ‘artists.’ But when one in those days would like to buy a Tomotada (友忠) ox or a goat by Okatomo (岡友), how would you know how to get one, or even know where the man lived – this is the Edo Period, long before the internet and smartphones. Another problem is in the epithet ‘so and so school,’ as if there were such a ‘school’ where aspiring carvers would enrol to become a ‘so or so school netsuke carver.’ And how could you find these schools if you wanted to buy some ‘so or so school’ netsuke? And what would you do when you live in Osaka, where there is apparently no ‘Osaka school’ of netsuke carvers?
Don’t despair, no problem, also in Osaka there are numerous shops specializing in various products from Edo, or having large selections of Setomono, a term covering all kinds of porcelains and pottery from all over the country, which you would also find in Kyoto and Edo. Then there are shops with a large array of local products, such as cotton from Kawachi Province and Shikoku Island, dolls from Fushimi, medicines from China and Holland, or from Hizen, suggesting Dutch medicines imported through Nagasaki, and both Chinese and Dutch pairs of glasses, various qualities of paper from the provinces of Echizen, Mino, and Tango, as well as paper, ink, brushes and incense from China, soy sauce from Bizen, various products from Matsumae, the northernmost tip of Honshū, as well as ginned cotton (繰綿), ink, brushes and ink stones old and new, miso paste, saddlery (馬具), teas, and much more from all over Japan. Even woodblock prints from Edo (江戸錦繪) and popular novels were being offered by Sumiya Kanshichi (炭屋勘七) at Matsubaradōri (松原通) in Kyoto, who otherwise held a large stock of Chinese mirrors and strings for the koto and the shamisen. And umbrellas sold in Edo were mostly imported from Kyoto (下リ). Indeed, there was no internet in the Edo Period, but they were certainly the so-called pre-modern era, well-equipped with good and up-to-date shopping guides as the equivalent of our already extinct yellow pages. Anyway, no fear of being deprived of anything you could imagine.
From such shopping guides, we can get a better idea about the market procedures, even for netsuke. Although some netsuke carvers may have run an atelier with a number of students catering to some audience in the various cities, such would have been quite exceptional, I would say. It might well be that we are rather mostly dealing with netsuke carvers working with one or preferably several shops that would sell their works on the basis of some commission. That there are indeed such shops will be obvious from, for example, the Guide for Shopping Yourself in Osaka, Shonin kaimono hitori annai (商人買物獨案内) published in 2 parts in 1824-1831 by Yanagihara Kihei (柳原木兵衛), Morimoto Tasuke (森本太助) and Nakagawa Gohei (中川五兵衛) of Osaka, together with Enya Yasubei (鉛屋安兵衛) of Kyoto and Suharaya Mohei (須原屋茂兵衛) of Edo. Under the letter ‘ne’ it lists just one netsuke maker: the Celebrity Netsuke Carving Studio of Zōgeya Chōbei, Meika netsuke saikudokoro (名家根付細工所象牙屋長兵衛), located at the Toriyachō by Bingochō (鳥屋町備後町南へ入). But we have a much better chance among the many haberdashers (essentially komamonoya 小間物屋). The shop of Kikuya Ihei (キク屋伊兵衛) at Sakaisuji minami Honchō (堺節南本町) advertises that it has netsuke, as well as all sorts of combs and ornamental hairpins both of the kōgai (笄) and of the kanzashi (簪) types (see the ill. below). The ‘ivory,’ zōge in the names of two other commodities haberdashers of the Komamono shoshiki toiya (小間物諸色問屋) guild, going by the names of Zōgeya Jirōbei (象牙屋治郎兵衛) at Sakaisuji Hakurōchō (堺節搏労町) and Zōgeya Yasubei (象牙屋安兵衛) at Sakaisuji minami Kyūtarōchō (堺節南久太郎町南へ入) would make it quite likely that they would also sell netsuke, I would say. Another haberdasher named Zōgeya Heizō (象牙屋平蔵) at Sakaisuji Junkeimachi (堺節順慶町北へ入) mentions that he is selling all sorts of combs and ornamental hairpins of both the kōgai (笄) and the kanzashi (簪) types, as well as netsuke, where it is probably understood that these are ivory for whom can afford these. And Tatsumiya Kaemon (辰巳屋加右衛門) at Shinsaibashi minami itchōme (心斎橋南一丁目) specifies that, in addition to netsuke, he also sells tobacco pouches, hardware (kanamono金物, probably small knives, kozuka, razors, scissors, and the like), and sagemono (提物, that is various items worn from the sash, which may be as varied as tobacco pouches, pipe holders, inrō, purses, gourds to contain liquids or also medicine, and scoops for drinking water). Ōtsuya Kyūbei (大津屋久兵衛) of Nagabori Shinsaibashi kitakō (長掘心斎橋北浩) also has netsuke and tobacco pouches, but states that he is specialized in ornamental hairpins of the kanzashi type and pipes. Then there is the shop of Echigoya Tōsuke (越後屋藤助), a haberdasher at Kōraibashi itchōme (高麗橋一丁目), actually specialized in bags and pouches, fukuromono (袋物), but also selling tortoise ornamental hairpins, kōgai, as well as water buffalo and ivory hairpins, again kōgai, so why not also netsuke?
And then there are still some thirty other haberdashers in this shopping guide that have tobacco pouches, various sagemono and various types of hairpins, but they just don’t explicitly advertise that they are also selling netsuke. Maybe it was well-known that you could just try any of the countless haberdashers if you wished to buy a netsuke and see whether they had any nice, new, or attractive model. Or just one really en vogue, if you would be looking for one that was like the talk of the town. After all, a figurative netsuke maybe best compares to a man’s necktie – even simple stripes may tell something about the wearer. As for the five Ateliers Working in Ivory, Zōge saikudokoro (象牙細工所), none of them advertizes that they also make netsuke, just combs, ornamental hairpins of both the kōgai and the kanzashi types, as well as the plectra for the shamisen and biwa lutes. One of these even claims to make various archer’s arm protectors (鞆), sword sheaths (鞘) and (other items?) in sharkskin (鮫, supposing that he refers to making sharkskin sword sheaths). But really, no netsuke if you work in ivory?
One interesting feature of this shopping guide is that a number of shops want to catch more attention and have the information about their business printed in blue. For 1824 this is a very early case of aizurie (藍摺絵) which we can find in Edo really not much earlier than 1830 (see my earlier blog on Hokusai’s Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and aizurie). These were of course printed separately and pasted in the correct position in the bound books. Alas, the second part of this very interesting and useful publication didn’t yield any more shops selling netsuke. Next week: Where would one buy a netsuke in Kyoto.