Two chestnuts rest on the underside of a plump mushroom, over which six metal ants scurry about their business. The mushroom stem is encrusted with patches of lichen in pewter and a small maggot protrudes from one of the chestnuts. It may be deduced that the mushroom is a shiitake as they were cultivated on chestnut trees.
Ganbun seems to have been an individual craftsman, his works showing great skill and realistic accuracy. His chosen subjects depict the natural world in decay, illustrating the impermanence of life. In Paris Edo (1994) Ducros refers to his genius of observation and describes him “comme un grand poète, il a sublimé cet nature” (like a great poet, he has sublimated nature itself).
His metal ants are also a subject of debate, with the slimmer creatures designated as ‘Tokyo’ ants, the plumper ones as ‘Kyoto’ ants. Bill Tilley anointed him ‘The Emmet Master’ (Eskenazi, Japanese netsuke from the Lazarnick collection, 1190, p. 13)
There was much discussion during the 1980’s over the correct reading of the carver’s name, with George Lazarnick setting out a length why he felt the correct pronunciation was ‘Mebun’ – with which Bill Tilley concurred. Over time, however, Ganbun has once again become the favoured interpretation.