During the Edo period people all wore kimono, which, unlike Western clothing, did not have pockets, so small, decorated toggles, called netsuke, were created toallow items, such as medicine cases, purses, or tobacco pouches, to be suspended by cords from the obi (sash) that was worn around the waist.
These were worn in a prominent position and so they developed into small sculptures or were decorated in other ways to appeal to fashionable dressers.
The popularity of these netsuke can be seen from the fact that at one time there were more than 2,000 artists involved in their production.
They are very artistic, minutely carved out of ivory, coral, or agate, etc., and have attracted many Western collectors.
Today they are highly admired as a form of traditional decorative art, with large collections in both the British Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Although their numbers are greatly reduced, there are still netsuke artists working today, and it is possible to pick up their work.
Antique pieces are famous for their fine detail, but some modern works are simpler.
Many of them use cute motifs such as lucky items or the animals of the Chinese zodiac.