Japan, mid 19th century - 5486
The composition of this netsuke, carved in Japanese cypress wood (hinoki, 檜) with glass paste inserts for the eyes, depicts the small but strong Kintaro (金太郎) riding a huge carp (koi,鯉). The rear fins of the fish rise up to touch the two pieces of fabric around the neck of the prodigy child.
Kintaro was the childhood name of Sakata Kaidomaru, son of Sakata Kurando – bodyguard of the emperor Suzaku (reigned 923-952) - and his mistress Yaegiri. After Kurando's death, Yaegiri went to the Ashigara mountains where she gave birth to her son, and left him there. Kintaro was found and raised by Yamanuba (山姥, montain old lady), a wild woman. Over the years Kintaro became very strong: the forest animals feared his power and many preferred to become his friends. One day Minamoto no Yorimitsu (944-1021) met Kintaro in the forest, he realized his potential and hired him as a warrior giving him the name Kintoki. Kintaro is usually depicted as a five or six years old child, often with bare pink or red skin and thick hair, accompanied by his friends, a bear, a rabbit, an eagle, and a monkey. Today he is still considered a hero much loved by Japanese children who see him as a model of strength and courage.
In this piece of the Lanfranchi collection, fascinating for the way in which the scene was conceived , the young Kintaro is trying to tame a carp of considerable size. The carp (koi, 鲤) in Japan is a very popular subject as a symbol of strength and perseverance, and is used in the preparations for the festival dedicated to boys.