Netsukes are the toggles that kept the inro balanced when suspended over the outside of the sash (obi). They were often made of ivory, but also frequently bone, horn, or wood. The ingenious qualities of their design belie the strictly practical nature of the netsuke, creating a harmony of function and decoration.
Inventories of household goods include netsukes—far exceeding the possible number actually needed.
Surely, they were collected, admired, and treasured as miniature sculptures long before westerners discovered them and collected them for the same reasons.
Subjects include celebrities or themes in the theater, references to the zodiac, literary romance, legendary monsters, the exotic foreigner (usually Chinese), and the homely familiar, in short, a whole cast of entertaining characters the size of the tip of your thumb.