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The 9-tailed fox illusionist, Tamamo-no-Mae

Netsuke depicting the story of the nine-tailed fox are relatively scarce, their origins in the legend of Tamamo-no-Mae. This troubled fox spirit first appeared in Chinese legend as a courtesan of Emperor Zhou of Shang. Her malign influence provoked a rebellion that brought about the fall of the dynasty.

Nine tailed fox wooden netsuke
Sui(?)sen, Nagoya, circa 1860

Her later reappearance in Edo culture depicted her as the concubine of Emperor Toba, renowned for her beauty and intelligence. However the emperor was stricken by a mysterious illness and it was Abe no Yasuchika who exposed her as a fox spirit. After her banishment the emperor recovered and the creature was later slain.

This Nagoya carving shows her in her fox-spirit persona, peeping coquettishly from behind a fan, but also conveys an underlying sense of coldness and guile.

The signature, in somewhat worn ukibori, has not been fully deciphered. The style of the carving suggests the work of Tadahisa , though inevitably there is an element of conjecture.

Articles by Rosemary Bandini
Rosemary Bandini Japanese Netsuke Catalogue 2019

The latest fully illustrated catalogue – Japanese netsuke and Sagemono (Summer 2020) – is available

Specialising in antique Japanese netsuke and inro, Rosemary Bandini started her career in the Japanese department of Sotheby’s in 1977, before marrying Luigi Bandini of Eskenazi Ltd. With him, Rosemary worked on the preparation of exhibition catalogues until 1996, subsequently organizing two further exhibitions for Eskenazi. Read more.

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