Kyokusai (1868-1926) - Bird in a mortar netsuke
Kyoto and Tokyo, circa 1910
A small domesticated bird is perched at the edge of a broad wooden spatula (surikogi hera) that rests in a mortar containing a thick paste. The bird’s head is slightly tilted as it contemplates the tasty treat. Small song birds such as the bush warbler (uguisu) and the Japanese white eye (mejiro) are particularly fond of a paste made from millet grains, roasted soy beans radish leaves, dried insects and such like.
Bushell remarks that little is known of the carver’s life. He initially signed his work Hoshu, changing to Kyokusai and occasionally Kyokudo in his mature years.