Minko - 5604
The netsuke depicts a tanuki with its right paw outstreched and the other one resting on its belly. The open mouth shows long and sharp canines. The cord (himo) passes though a hole on the lower side of the composition between the left thigh and left paw. The signature Minko (岷江), with kakihan, is engraved on the belly.
The tanuki (狸) is an animal of the canine family very similar to the racoon or the badger to which fabulous powers where attributed. Usually, like in this netsuke, it is depicted with a prominent stomach that he strikes to scare wayfarers, and with a big scrotum. In the Japanese tradition he is also believed to be able to change his appearance. Among his most known disguises it takes the shape of a monk in order to capture and then eat, insincere believers. For this reason in other netsuke tanuki is depicted disguised as a monk, or covered by a lotus leaf, thanks to which it is said he is able to change himself.
A tanuki is also the main character of the story entitled Bunbuku chamaga (文福 茶釜). In it is told that a priest of the Morinji temple, after experiencing the extraordinary abilities of a tea pot that could turn into a tanuki, sold it to a tinsmith who, having discovered the magical powers of the object, made a journey through the country and made a fortune out of it.
Minko (1735 - 1816) was a very prolific artist who worked in Tsu, Ise Province. His netsuke and okimono are made of wood with a predilection for zodiac animals, especially tigers. Among Minko subjects are also human figures. There are many tanuki signed Minko and not all are authentic. The specimen in the Lanfranchi collection, built between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth, can be attributed to the master only doubtfully.