Netsuke Cicada


Ivory netsuke depicting an abura-zemi cicada, with glass inlays for the eyes. Signed by Yoshikawa (吉川).


The abura-zemiis named for its characteristic song –  jin jin jin –  which resembles the sound of boiling oil (abura means “oil” in Japanese). It is the largest of the cicadas, its size up to 40 mm. After spending two to three years underground as nymphs, the cicadas then emerge from the ground to mate, and die after a few weeks. The brevity of their existence reminds the Japanese of the fleetingness of their own lives, and the importance of enjoying it. Insects (mushi) occupy an important place in Japanese culture, and cicadas (semi) are considered a summer symbol, their song marking the beginning of summer. Hunting for insects is a popular pastime, especially among children. Using plastic nets and cages, they catch cicadas and beetles to observe them.


Miniature figurine, often carved in wood, lacquer or ivory, the netsuke (根付) is a traditional Japanese item of clothing. As kimono do not have pockets, everyday objects are transported in little boxes called sagemono. The netsuke hold firmly inrō’s string, or other types of sagemono, slipped into the obi, the belt which closes the kimono. The production of netsuke flourishes during the Edo period.

Japan – Meiji ( 1868 – 1912 )

Length : 2.45 in – Width: 0.91 in