Tag Archive | netsuke


tengu samurai mask s

After I posted drawings of a Japanese mask and netsuke a few weeks ago, A-wing and A-way asked me if there were any Tengu masks in the book.  There were a few netsuke, but no masks, so I looked some up online to draw.  The samurai mask above was one of my favorites…quite imposing on top of the armor too.

tengu mask side s

Looks a bit like angry birds, no?

tengu netsuke s

Tengu is an interesting character, and there seem to be many different sides to his mythology.  He is a shape-shifting trickster mountain god, and always has a bird-like aspect:  wings, talons, hatching from giant eggs.    In fact, Tengu hatching from an egg is the most common form of his representation in netsukes.

tengu long nose s

Karasu tengu, “crow tengu”, is the one with the beak.  He seems to be the more malicious cousin, a herald of disaster and war.  Konona tengu, the mountain monk, has a human face with a long nose.  He is a skilled  warrior, and is more often helpful to humans.

garuda s

Because of the cross-fertilization between the culture, religion, and mythology of Japan with both China and India, many think Tengu is derived from Garuda, the bird-like mount of Lord Vishnu.  There is certainly a resemblance.

You can read A-wing and A-way’s post on birds in Japanese culture here.

And you can see my other drawings of Japanese masks and netsuke here.

Another Mask (and Netsuke too)

hannya mask s

I recently took two books about ghosts and spirits in Japanese Art out of the library.  Besides learning a bit about the origins and history of these beings, there was a lot of great art.  I decided to draw some of it with my brown pencil set on brown paper, experimenting with rendering both darks and lights on a neutral ground.  Above is a mask of Hannya, used in Noh theater to represent the ghost or soul of a woman seeking revenge out of jealousy, or one who has an obsession she can’t escape.  The masks are meant to convey conflicting emotions:  both hate and suffering.  And the darker the mask, the more evil the spirit.

gama sennin with his toad s

I was also really taken with all the netsukes in both books.  Above is Gama-Sennin, one of the immortal mountain gods, who is always accompanied by a toad.  He can change himself into a toad too!