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Neil Holton Japanese Art


The Kappa, a favourite among collectors were said to inhabit the river.

Some features like scales, beak, webbed hands and feet even a tortoise carapace can be present or not, but one characteristic the hollowed out cranium identifies this subject immediately. A devourer of visitors to the riverbank, the Kappa’s achilles heel is his manners which are said to be impeccable. So much so, when a would-be victim had the good sense on meeting a Kappa, to bow first, the kappa’s manners demanded him to do the same, thus spilling his life-giving liquid contained within the bowl of his head, killing the beast instantly.

Our example shows an emaciated Kappa with an expression that at first glance might be described as concerned, however spend a little time with this fellow, examining the face from different angles, he appears to be smiling. Our example too, is a variation from the normal Kappa attempting in vain to free his loin cloth from the jaws of the clam. He’s balanced, on top of the clam, almost surfing. There is a message here, and no doubt it has a connection to the deadlier of the sexes, the female, though what that message is, I really wouldn’t like to say. Could be dangerous!

Echigo is a remote region in central west Japan. Yasusada Shuzan was in Meinertzhagens words, “brilliant”, a statement I agree with wholeheartedly. As far as I have encountered he was a wood carver. Equally at home producing bold, powerful works though some display incredibly fine textured details, like our Kappa. This duo of styles may indicate two generations of artists or perhaps this just demonstrates the natural progression of an artists career, in Shuzans case it was spent producing Netsuke of an extremely high calibre the majority of the time. Our Kappa, simply put, brilliant!

Signed: Shuzan. Echigo. Mid 19th Century.


5.2cm Wide