Although a simple search of various netsuke books and Sal Fuld’s index reveals several examples of netsuke by Ryusansai Issan’s, he is an artist of whom we have scant biographical information. Perhaps for this reason, there has been a tendency to confuse his carvings with those of Hidari Issan. We do have biographical records of Hidari Issan which tell us after studying carving in Edo, he that he settled in Aizu, in the then-named Iwashiro province. He earned such high regard that he employed the services of pupils to help cope with demand for his work. We do not however have any documentation linking him to Ryusansai. Davey writes in his comprehensive study of the M.T. Hindson collection: “Was a contemporary of Hidari Issan and always worked in wood. Here, however, the similarity between the two ends..” Although Davey lists him under ‘Iwashiro’ we do not have evidence that he was ever there, although it had long been the tradition to link him to this group of craftsmen.
Further confusion arises over Ryusansai and the quite separate Ryusenshi. Both Meinertzhagen and Davey record a full version of Ryusansai’s signature showing clearly and logically the kanji 龍山斎 (studio of the dragon mountain), while Ryusenshi uses the kanji 龍川子 (dragon river child). There is no evidence to link the two craftsmen and the name Rysenshi Issan appears to be a result of westerners’ confusion of two similar sounding names.
Fuld records only a small number of works by Ryusansai Issan, the hare group above not included amongst them. His subjects seem to be mostly animals, sometimes groupings of parent and young, such as this example. There is a tender playfulness in the composition, the leveret leaping over the adult’s back, its body curved into an arc -like a depiction suggesting a hare leaping over the moon, conveying a playfulness in the carver’s imagination. The parent, unperturbed by the young one’s antics, calmly grooms its ear. It is a carving that pleases from all angles, a one-dimensional camera shot denying an appreciation of its completeness. It needs to be held in the hand to be fully appreciated.