About the object

A Japanese Carved Boxwood Netsuke of a Skeleton Placed in the Foetal Position Ready for Traditional Burial ‘Memento Mori’
The Himotoshi passing through the Spine 

Early 19th Century Edo Period (1601 - 1867)


6.5cm long - 2½ ins long 


Ex collection Arlette Katchen, Paris, France  

Human skeletons and skulls have more than one meaning in Japanese art. Buddhist teaching, much like the Christian religion, warns that physical beauty deteriorates so that at the end, all that is left of us is a skeleton. Both doctrines denounce vanity and uphold the pursuit of inner spiritual growth. However, this particular skeleton is more than just a ‘vanitas’ as it displays the earlier Japanese tradition of placing the deceased in the foetal position within the coffin before burial. Until the early 20th century most bodies were buried and cremation was limited to the wealthy, but in modern Japan with land at a premium, cremation is regarded as the most acceptable option.



6.5cm long