Today we’re going to explore how kimono pockets evolved into the popular phone charms that the Japanese people seem to be so fond of. I know, seems like a pretty unlikely progression, right? Kimono pockets to phone charms? What’s the deal here?
Sagemono and Netsuke
It all starts with these little things called sagemono and netsuke. Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented way back in 17th-century Japan to serve as fasteners for the portable pockets known as sagemono. The two Japanese characters ne and tsuke mean “root” and “to attach” respectively.
Traditional Japanese garments like kimono and hakama had no pockets built into them so people needed something in which to store their goodies. Since fanny packs hadn’t been invented yet, sagemono were used as miniature storage devices for stuff like pipes, tobacco, money, seals, and drugs.
These portable pockets were small containers hung by a cord from the sashes of the robe. The containers were usually simple pouches or small baskets, but the most popular and fancy ones were intricately carved boxes. One thing that all the sagemono had in common was the fastener that secured the cord at the top of the sash. This fastener was a carved attachment called a netsuke.
How does this relate to phone charms, you ask? Well, these netsuke evolved from useful little fasteners to much, much more. Over time they became an outlet for artistic expression and have a long history of reflecting everything from Japanese folklore to everyday life.
Netsuke art was most popular during the Edo period in Japan, around 1615-1868. With time it became a respected art form, but lost its practical application as a fastener for sagemono. Netsuke started to be produced for no practical reason whatsoever. Now we’re getting somewhere.
That’s Like, So Kawaii, Bro
Once the netsuke stopped being used for practical purposes, artists took it as an opportunity to create ornate pieces of breathtaking beauty and exquisite intricacies. Others took it as the opportunity to create precursors for Hello Kitty.
During the netsuke boom in Japan, many of the netsuke produced were cute little things specifically designed to make women and young children squeal their hearts out. As such, these netsuke are considered early examples of kawaii-ness in Japanese art. This is the second step of the netsuke to phone charm transition.
Netsuke Go Mainstream
Ah, the culmination of hundreds and hundreds of years of Japanese craftsmanship. For those who have been living in captivity their whole lives, phone charms are little dangly things that are connected to cell phones for fun. Many Japanese phones have a loop hole through which a strap can be attached and in Japan, they are known as “keitai straps” because keitai means cell phone.
If you take a look at one of the modern day phone charms, you can actually see the parallels to the netsuke and sagemono of days long past. I say there’s a definite connection here, and I’m sure other people on the internet would agree that Japanese phone charms are the modern day equivalent of netsuke/sagemono. Kimonos don’t have pockets, and neither do cell phones. They’re practically the same thing.
Anyway, phone charms are super popular in Japan and there are tons and tons of different varieties. Some phone charms claim they can detect ghosts (unlikely), some can carry medicine (throwback to the olden days, no doubt), and some are even specifically designed for Farmville farming (styluses). Some even flash or light up when your cell phone rings (technology!) and there are even some charms you can put on your finger to clean up your grimy screen.
So, just like netsuke, not all Japanese phone charms are just for looks. Some of them are actually used for something practical. Whether you need to carry your gold pieces to the capital or need a handy piece of cloth to wipe your cell phone screen, these little fasteners are there to help you out.
And now you know the rich history behind the plastic, mass produced phone charms of the modern age. Armed with this knowledge, you can impress your friends, relatives, and complete strangers. Semi-useful fasteners have been an important part of Japanese culture for hundreds of years. And that’s why the Japanese love phone charms so much. Or maybe they just think they’re cute. Your guess is as good as mine.
So tell me, what do you think about these nifty little fasteners known as netsuke and their evolution into the phone straps of today? Ever had a cell phone charm of your own? Let us know in the comments!