About the dealer

About the object


Circa 1880

This striking sculpture is a 'Jizai okimono' which translates as 'freely moving decorative object' of which the earliest is thought to be an iron articulated dragon by Myochin Muneaki. It is dated 1713 and is in the collections of the Tokyo National Museum.

The craftsmanship of this large carved ivory dragon is quite exceptional and the huge number of individual parts allows for a greater range of movement than would be expected; the body undulates, the legs and claws move freely and the head sways from side to side.

The dragon has the body of a serpent, scales of a carp, claws of an eagle and the antlers of a deer; it is associated with water and its breath forms clouds which cause it to rain. This water spirit was incorporated into local Buddhist beliefs as the religion spread throughout Asia, and Japan was no exception. The dragon as a water god and ancestor of the first Japanese Emperor already featured in Shinto tradition and was readily absorbed into Japanese Buddhism as a protective spirit.

The masters of ivory carving had been employed in creating the exquisite netsuke which gentlemen used to safeguard their pouches which were used before the invention of pockets. However, with the opening of the markets with the West towards the end of the 19th century western clothes with pockets were also adopted and these creative ivory sculptors employed their skills to form okimono such as this superb dragon.


W 112cm, 44"

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