The netsuke and the pipe, with all that pertained to it, were for the commoners what the sword-hilt and guard were for the gentry.
It is not to be inferred, however, though it is a favorite assertion of collectors, that no good netsuke have been made in modern times.
That theory is based upon the fact that after the opening of the country to foreign intercourse in 1857, hundreds of inferior specimens of netsuke were chiselled by inexpert hands, purchased wholesale by treaty-port merchants, and sent to New York, London and Paris, where, though they brought profit to the exporter, they also disgusted the connoisseur and soon earned discredit for their whole class.
But the netsuke may now be said to be a thing of the past.
But in fact the glyptic artists of Tokyo, Osaka and KiOto, though they now devote their chisels chiefly to works of more importance than the netsuke, are in no sense inferior to their predecessors of feudal days, and many beautiful netsuke bearing their signatures are in existence.
When Japanese sculpture in wood or ivory is spoken of, the first idea that presents itself is connected with the netsuke, which, of all the art objects found in Japan, is perhaps the most Netsuke essentially Japanese.
The inro (medicine-box), which it mainly served to fix in the girdle, has been driven out of fashion by the new civilization imported from the West, and artists who would have carved netsuke in former times now devote their chisels to statuettes and alcove ornaments.