Netsuke and Inro are decorative items from old Japan. An inro is a container composed of wood or lacquer hung from a man’s obi (kimono belt) using a string or cord.
In other words, it’s a man-purse. Kimonos don’t have pockets, so you had to have a way to transport your stuff.
Netsuke are little bits of carved wood or bone that attaches to the string or cord on an inro and holds it in place. You can see some amazing examples in the Flicker Netsuke pool.
China also has a similar type of art, usually called a toggle, but it’s not as well studied as Japan’s Netsuke. Fortunately, the always wonderful Cultural Entomology Journal has details and photos!
The majority of Netsuke images online are on Ebay or other auction houses–a quick Google search on “netsuke insect” will give you lots of examples. Some of them are really ingenious–this one uses the slit in the back of a shed cicada skin to naturally attach the inro cord.
You can also read a discussion of modern Netsuke artists and see some of their creations at Netsukeonline.
As much as I love Netsuke, I don’t actually own any of them–you can’t really do much with them besides admire them on a shelf. In my quest to have less stuff, this is one of those things that I have firmly said no to. (*Sigh*)