Ivory netsuke of a lying hare with pupils inlaid with dark horn.
Signed under the right hing leg “?山”, ?san, ?zan ou ?yama. The first kanji is not easily clear. It could perhaps be “松山” : Shozan or Matsuyama.
In Japanese, the hare and the rabbit are referred to by a single word: usagi. The hare has an important place in Japanese legends and superstitions. According to Chinese beliefs, it has a very long life expectancy. It could reach a fabulous age and become blue at five hundred years. In the art of East Asia, it is often represented with the moon.
The story of the white rabbit of Inaba is in the Kojiki, a myths compilation about the origin of Japan dating from 713.
The deity Ôkuninushi, descendant of Susanô, has to go to the province of Inaba to ask for the hand of the princess Yagami. He is accompanied by his eighty brothers and on the way, he meets a rabbit on a beach, skinned alive.
The animal tells that he crossed the sea from the neighboring island by riding on the back of sharks. He played with them by asking them to line up and by jumping on their backs, pretending to count them to answer a riddle: which of the rabbits or the sharks are more numerous. When he reached the last shark, he admitted to having deceived them and not knowing how to count. The shark ripped off the rabbit’s skin and the rabbit managed to escape.
Ôkuninushi’s brother advised the animal to throw itself in the sea and to let its skin dry in the wind to heal its wounds. But the salt attacked the flesh of the rabbit, which writhed of pain under the laughter of the brothers. Okuninushi advised him to immerse himself in the water of a source and roll himself in the pollen. The rabbit complied his skin heals and regains its white coat. To thank him, he predicted to the deity that he would marry Princess Yamagi, which came true.
Japan – Meiji era (1968-1912)
Height: 0.8 in. (2.5 cm) – width: 0.8 in. (2 cm) – depth: 1.6 in. (4.5 cm)