Animated “Rice Eating Mouse – Komekui Nezumi” | Japanese Bamboo Spring Action Folk Toy
In 1830 (Tempo era), there was a great famine in Japan, due to the failure of the rice crop which is Japan’s food staple. This little mouse, trying to eat from an empty dish was a humorous if not a sad caricature of lean times. The mouse/rat is the first animal listed in the Asian Zodiac, and considered a very auspicious symbol. Nezumi, refers to either rodent who were considered a constant companion of Daikoku, the lucky god who brings out the riches of the land by striking the ground with his magic mallet.
This piece, called a “Rice-eating mouse – Komekui Nezumi” is an action folk toy which gave inspiration to the development of the now famous anime. (Anime began at the start of the 20th century when Japanese filmmakers experimented with animation techniques which is now a major at most universities around the world).
This toy is made of dark stained Kiri (Paulownia) wood, and has a bamboo spring (reinforced in the middle of the spring for added strength) that is attached to the mouse and base, which acts like a mechanical spring to give the mouse its motion. When the bamboo bow is pressed the head and the tail of the mouse dip down which causes the mouse to look like it is “eating rice” from a small, red topped dish made of bamboo.
These animated figures were originally made by lower ranking Samurai of the Kaga region, (presently referred to as the Ishikawa prefecture) to supplement their income and for which they adopted the ideas and designs from the popular and antique Karakuri dolls (Karakuri-zui of the Edo period). Most craftsmen utilized the abundant Kiri wood available from the local forests. As a side note, in 1960, (which was the Year of the Rat) this particular toy was adopted as the New Year Stamp Design from a Nationwide competition hosted by the Japanese Postal Service.
There is a paper stamp on the bottom of this wonderfully crafted piece that refers to the “Edo Nishiki,” in 1773 which illustrates numerous animated animals of this type. The piece is in its original excellent condition. Age: 1960’s. Dimensions: 3-½”d x 2-1/2”w x 3-1/4”h.