Sashi-netsuke by Kokusai

A slender, smooth-bodied dragon wraps it self around the cap of a reishi fungus. The elongated snout coils in towards its gaping mouth, while its rear leg and tail curl to form almost a mirror image, creating a mokugyo-like shape. The archaic rain dragon is totemic in Kokusai’s designs and appears repeatedly in his work.

Paul Moss’s major study, Kokusai the Genius, published in 2016, shows four reishi-shaped works that echo this particular design, (nos. 316-319). The base of the stem of each is pierced with an (inome) boar’s eye, emblematic of unflinching courage.

This auspicious plant, symbolising long life, grows with a naturally short stem, but under certain conditions this can lengthen, and is referred to as an ‘antler’ reishi. Kokusai, quite appropriately, exploits the natural shape of a stag antler to fashion reishi obi-hasami, sashi and full-sized sceptres. In this example he has created an extra expression of his characteristic wit – the design also suggests an hallucinogenic face with vortex eyes.

The raised signature: Kokusai, is carved against a hatched background within an elliptical reserve.

Length: 21cms

Circa 1860-1880