Monkey Trainer - 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 probably took care of warriors' horses. 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, a 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.