An octopus beaten by two men
Ivory and coral, netsuke, an octopus being beaten by two men, Japanese, 19th century. A katabori-netsuke or 'sculpture-netsuke' carved of ivory depicting an octopus with a giant head with eyes of black coral. The octopus is on a rock made of white coral or possibly ivory pitted to look like rock; the octopus has coiled its tentacles around its head to protect itself from being beaten by two men wielding staffs.
Miniature sculptures, netsuke are in fact toggles used in Japan to fasten Inrō (containers or pouches) to sashes on their garments. Despite their utilitarian function netsuke were carved to delight their wearer, and soon were regarded as artistic objects in their own right. The subjects they depict are taken from Japanese myth, legend and everyday life, often interpreted with great finesse, imagination and humor. As fish, shellfish and octopus are staple foods of Japan sea creatures are depicted in netsuke, with octopi sometimes employed to represent Ryūjin, the dragon-god of the sea, or Yakushi, the Buddha of healing.