Welcome to Rosemary Bandini Japanese Art. As well as providing online access to my catalogues, the site also features a selection of items from my stock, blog posts and updates on upcoming exhibitions, news and calendar events in the netsuke world in general.
Okatomo wolf and clam
A hungry wolf is a familiar netsuke subject, indeed it is almost exclusively a representation seen in netsuke form. In wood block prints, it is most typically shown against a full moon.
The wolf (ōkami) was traditionally revered as a protector, believed to act as an escort to lonely travellers. It was not a trickster, unlike the fox. It was traditional to leave offerings to the wolf guardian in the form of meat – in fact it was a practical way of ensuring the creature would not need to take livestock. This may have been the sentiment behind the representations of a hungry wolf with its paw resting on a juicy haunch of venison, perhaps serving as a talisman to the wearer of the netsuke. It is known that wolves’ teeth, skulls and fragments of skin were sometimes kept in village homes as protective amulets. Proof of the subject’s popularity is reflected in the proliferation of poorly carved and inferior examples produced through the late 18th and 19th centuries, many bearing fake signatures of Tomotada. The profusion of these carvings seems second only to the numerous badly carved oxen inscribed with the name Tomotada.
It was a subject that seems to have elicited a playful interpretation in some of the works of Tomotada and Okatomo, where the unfortunate and ravenous creature is confronted with a tightly closed clam, or worse still, its paw in the painful grip of a crab’s pincers. This representation by Okatomo shows another playful dilemma, which I had not previously come across. The emaciated wolf, its paw resting on a clam, yelps out in pain as an abalone clamps itself firmly against his flank, almost as if trying to rescue its fellow mollusc from the canid’s hungry jaws. Although its ribs show clearly through its skin, Okatomo has nonetheless managed to convey the sense of the wolf’s strength in its powerful shoulders and large paws.
There were only two varieties of wolf native to Japan, the Honshu wolf on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, while Hokkaido was exclusively inhabited by the Hokkaido wolf. Unfortunately an outbreak of rabies and that perennial enemy of nature, deforestation and loss of habitat, led the wolf into conflict with humans and a bounty was put on them after the Meiji restoration. As a result, he Honshu wolf was officially pronounced extinct in 1905.