Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inspiration from the East

I’ve always been a little bit in love with Japanese culture. Their dress, traditions and landscapes are truly inspiring. They seem to create everything just perfectly, from gardens to architecture to art. You can feel their heritage running through it. 

Every year they celebrate the flowering of cherry trees. The tradition is called Ohanami and means  'go and watch the Sakura blossoms'
I think it’s the sense of history that runs through their lives that I find most appealing. Traditions started thousands of years ago are still followed to this day.

Koishikawa Korakuen garden in Tokyo was created in 1629 and is now surrounded by office buildings.
And they proudly pass these traditions through to their children to keep them alive. Our house is currently joining in with some of their culture by watching Totoro on repeat… a wonderful animated story of two Japanese children who befriend woodland spirits and are rewarded with nuts and seeds to plant in their garden. The Japanese believe that the world is fully spiritually alive which I think is a wonderful belief to have!

Totoro and friends making the trees grow.
Their traditional dress is Kimono. It literally means ‘thing to wear’ 

A little bit fancier than it's name suggests!
They are made from silk and can be suited to any occasion, including weddings, geisha and maiko, and were even part of the armour worn by samurai.

Vintage Japanese doll in Samurai armour
Kimono have no pockets, so to carry their medicines, brushes, tobacco or money, wearers would either tuck them in to the sleeves, or wear them on their belts in hanging Sagemono (little boxes). The boxes were hung from a cord with ojime (a sliding bead) and the cord was passed behind the belt and held in place with a netsuke to stop it from slipping through. It’s the netsuke that particularly appeals to me. They are little carvings, made from wood, precious stones, ivory, shell or metal and could be seen as a giant bead. 

Wearing an Inro (medicine box) held in place with a netsuke.
There are many different types of netsuke and are carved to represent all kinds of objects including flora and fauna, heroes, mystical beasts and daily activities and many were believed to be talismans. 

Plum Blossom Netsuke
Street performers
Ivory Dragon
Rabbit with the moon
I’m currently waiting for a book delivery from Amazon on some of the carving techniques which I hope will transfer to clay sculpting, but already inspired by these tiny carvings, I have been trying out some miniature designs of my own. 

New tools!
I recently treated myself to a new set of tools so tested them out on some porcelain clay. 

Forest Bead
My favourite subject - a running hare
They're not a patch on the proper netsuke, but I really like how they turned out, a little 3dimensional picture you can wear! I hope to have some free time to make more soon! 
Disclaimer: This post does not in any way condone the use of ivory. The sample shown is purely for art appreciation purposes and should be viewed in the context of the time in which it was created. 


  1. Loving this post Caroline! Thank you for sharing. So much to read and absorb, such a lot to comment on. I like the running hare in particular, can't wait to see where this inspiration takes you. The netsuke you have shared look amazing. My youngest is Japan-obsessed and it is rubbing off on me, providing me with creative inspiration too, I may try making origami flowers with fabrics or tyvek. I have made her a beaded sakura-inspired necklace with more ideas in the pipeline. Studio Ghibli - ahhhh...... love Totoro too. Regards, Lyn

  2. Splendid, deep post. I wish you had shown us your new tools! It is not too late to modify your post!

  3. Caroline, I love that little running hare of yours soooooo much! I was happy to see him again in this interpretation! Lovely post today.

  4. Caroline, those are so beautiful! They are almost a story by themselves.

  5. Such an interesting post! I sometimes find bits of Asian traditions appearing in my jewelry designs, and they are often my favorite pieces! I love the new carvings you are making! They are delightfully detailed!

  6. So creative Caroline, I can't wait to see more!!


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