Monkey Trainer - 5666

Not signed, Japan

Monkey Trainer
late 19th century
4,1x4,2x2,6 cm
2005 bequest Maria Taglietti Lanfranchi
Inv. 5666

This ivory netsuke represents a man sitting on a log; he is bringing  to his mouth a pipe (kiseru, 煙管) with his right hand, while in the other one he is holding by the cord (himo) a tobacco pouch (tabako-ire, 煙草入),  which has a pipe-case (kiseruzutsu, 煙管筒 ), an ojime and manju type netsuke. Next to his left foot, there is a drum with a folding fan on its top; on his right side a little monkey, dressed in a tunic without sleeves, is staring at him while nibbling at a fruit.

Monkey trainers (sarumawashi, 猿回し)  in ancient Japan probablytook care of warriors' horses of warriors. During the Edo era (1615-1868) they rounded up in the bigger urban centers and, from the end of the 18th century, monkeys were often dressed up with human clothing to reproduce the Kabuki dramas, custom that went on during the whole Meiji period (1868-1912). These shows were performed especially for New Year celebrations. Usually, trainers dressed up monkeys with traditional costumes worn by manzai and sanbaso dancers. These type of performances were very popular; people loved in particular their satirical aspect: thanks to this disguise, monkeys played roles that mocked nobility (kuge, 公卿) and samurai, avoiding the automatic governmental persecutions.