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Ojime originated in Japan, and were designed to work in conjunction with netsuke to allow a Japanese person to hang items (a purse, often called Inro) from a sash (called an obi) around their kimono, as kimonos had no pockets. Zanzibar offers dozens or hundreds of hand carved figures in both ojime, netsuke and inro sizes. Prices start at $12.50 and go to over $100.
Both Japanese women and men wore kimonos in historical Japan. Women had large sleeves and would tuck personal items into these sleeves, but men suspended their tobacco pouches, medicines, pocketbooks, pipes, medicines or writing implements on a silk cord from their kimono sash. These hanging objects are called sagemono or inro. Often highly decorated compartmentalized boxes, these inro hung below the obi, a wide fabric kimono belt, on a double cord.
To stop the cord from slipping through the sash, a large carving was attached at the top of a wound cord - this was called a netsuke (pronounced “net – ski” or “nets-kay”). Netsuke acted as a toggle to anchor the inro and prevent it from falling. These large bead-like items typically have two holes at their base and allow a cord to be fed through the bottom of the bead.
A sliding bead with a hole through it, top to bottom, called an ojime, was strung on the cord between the netsuke and the inro to tighten or loosen the opening of the box or pouch; and to ensure that it stayed closed. These ojime served an everyday function, but were extensively carved and decorated. In their day, people surely made fashion statements through their ojime. It is their beauty that explains why ojime are collected today by so many individuals. Many ojime beads available today are reproductions of antiques; others are original works inspired by the tradition. Few are actually made in Japan. Historically they were made from bone, ivory, wood, lacquer and seashells to name but a few materials. Today most are carved of wood, however some are still made using bone or fossilized mammoth or mastodon tusks.
The entire ensemble was worn at the waist and functioned as a sort of removable hip pocket. All three objects (netsuke, ojime and inro) were often beautifully adorned with elaborate carving, lacquer work, or inlays of rare and exotic materials; including wood, ivory, precious metals, shell, coral and semi-precious stones. All three items have developed into highly coveted and collectible art forms.
Each of these items is individually hand carved. Zanzibar Tribal Art offers master carved ojime, netsuke and inro carved of sustainably harvested boxwood. Our carvers work in a small family owned workshop in northeastern China. These carvings are one of the few items that Zanzibar imports from China, and we can assure you that these pieces meet strict fair trade guidelines. The family-run workshop has five relatives who are all master carvers; and they have seven employees, ranging in skill and status from novice to master. These pieces are not produced in a factory, but in a small workshop that adjoins the family’s residence. Workers are paid living wages and are essentially an extension of the family. Meals are shared, as are tasks such as babysitting.
Every piece is carved from aged boxwood. The family raises the boxwood and sustainably harvests their material. Typically each piece is collaboration between three to five individuals. All pieces are carved by hand and power tools are not used.
One or two apprentice carvers will rough out the design from a square block of wood, often spending up to four hours to get the rough shape of the piece. A working carver will then refine the shape. A master carver will complete the carving. At this stage, often including the final details, sanding and staining will be done by a master finisher. Similar contemporarily carved pieces from Japan would sell for hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
Highly collectable, they are a reminder of days gone by. Enjoy these whimsical carvings! Each piece is hand carved and unique.
click on the above photos to see an enlargement
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Zanzibar Tribal Art
1731 L Street
Sacramento CA 95814