Masanao - toad and snake netsuke
Ise Yamada, circa 1850
An unsuspecting toad sits on an upturned sandal as a large snake slithers silently up from below and seizes the unfortunate creature’s back leg in its mouth. The eyes are inlaid in dark horn.
Although no slug is depicted in this grouping, the allusion is likely to the grouping of slug, toad and snake – sansukumi – where the toad eats the slug, which is poisonous to the snake; the snake may eat the toad, but as that in turn has eaten the slug, then they all will die. There is no winner. There is a hand game in Japan – sansukumi-ken – like the Western game ‘rock paper scissors’.