Masanao netsuke of a snake and toad

19th century

Masanao - wood netsuke of a snake and toad locked in mortal combat

A bold wood netsuke of a snake and toad locked in mortal combat. Unfortunately for the toad, the snake seems to have the upper hand in the struggle. The slithering body encircles the amphibian’s thorax, as the latter struggles to brace its feet against the tightening coils. Although no slug is depicted in this grouping, the allusion is likely to the grouping of slug, toad and snake – sansukumi – where the toad may eat the slug, which is poisonous to the snake; the snake may eat the toad, but if 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’.

Masanao - wood netsuke of a snake and toad locked in mortal combat
Masanao - wood netsuke of a snake and toad locked in mortal combat
Masanao - wood netsuke of a snake and toad locked in mortal combat
Masanao - wood netsuke of a snake and toad locked in mortal combat

Ise Yamada
19th century

Signed on a polished reserve: Masanao

Length: 4.9cm

Masanao - signature