Netsuke is type of Japanese miniature sculpture or carving popular around the Edo period, 1615–1868. The word “netsuke” is formed out of the Japanese characters “ne’ and “tsuke” which apparently mean to “root” and “to attach.” Netsuke were originally worn on garments as a means to carry small personal effects—medicine, tobacco, what have you. Over time netsuke changed in use to a decorative and ornamental function.
Netsuke were primarily carved from ivory or bone though wood and whale tooth were also fashionable. The sculptures generally depicted famous people, animals (cute little bunny rabbits were very popular), plants, deities, mythical beasts and sex. These porny carvings were known as shunga netsuke and featured all forms of coitus: straight, gay, group and bestiality.
The men in these carvings generally sported humungous dicks and the women always looked rather pleased. But these miniatures were not just novelties—they were considered good luck charms. In Japan a happy sex life had long been associated as a means to safeguard against bad luck. A house with a shunga netsuke over its lintel would be protected from fire. A soldier carrying one would be protected in battle. To own one meant fertility and success. These beautiful and comic little miniatures were considered life-affirming and radiated tolerance and patience. Nowadays this aspect of shunga netsuke is less important as these carvings can sell for several hundred dollars to a thousand plus at auction.
H/T icollector, Aspire Auctions, Auctionata, Mingei Arts and Hermitage.