Vintage Ichii Itto Bori Zodiac (single-cut yew-wood) carving of a Zodiac Monkey | Saru | signed Ryoho
This is a Japanese vintage Ichii Itto bori wood zodiac animal carving from the 1960s. This piece was crafted by and signed on the underside by Ryoho, who worked in the Hida Takayama area of Gifu Prefecture. This piece is made of Japanese Cedar, which is an evergreen yew tree from the mountain areas of the Hida Province. The cedar wood exemplifies the perfect combination of hardness and oiliness, making the wood extremely easy to carve, and the especially fine grain produces an exquisite surface when carved and polished. The wood is reddish in color, at the core, getting paler on the outer layers, which adds extra interest for the carver. The monkey’s eyes are inlaid with horn. This carving is in its original marked cardboard box, with a traditional cloth wrapping. The piece is from the 19th/c and in original condition.
The Monkey (saru) is represented by this “Year of the Monkey” carving. In Japan, the monkey’s role in guarding against demons originates from the Japanese word for monkey, pronounced saru, which is a homonym for the Japanese word “expel”. The latter word means to “dispel, punch out, push away, beat away.” According to the legends of Japan’s Mt. Hiei shrine-temple multiplex, this makes the monkey an “expeller of demons” — in other traditions, the monkey is also thought to ward off thieves. People born in the years: 1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028, 2040 are under this zodiac. Dimensions: 2-1/2”w x 3-0”d x 4-0”h
Additional Information —
Carving techniques inherited by craftsmen such as Ryoho date to the 5th and 6th centuries, with wood carving in the Hida province being conceived and produced by a group known as the “Artisans of Hida”. At one period in time, these craftsmen were involved in construction work in Kyoto, in which Itto bori-style carving was employed in temple architecture, statue carvings (Buddha), Yatai Festival floats (see image), and decorative figural carving. Today, the wood from the precious Ichii (Japanese Cedar [Jomon Sugi/Hinoki] / Cryptomeria), tree is still used to make items for the Emperor’s coronation ceremony and for important occasions such as the on-going temple reconstruction ceremonies at the Grand Shrine of Ise.
Toward the middle of the eighteenth century, carvings that depicted zodiac animals became increasingly popular—to such an extent that today up to half of the most sought-after ivory and woodcarvings represent zodiac animals. Takayama is considered the center of Itto bori-styled wood crafts, local artists faithfully carried on the Ichii craft as seen in this zodiac animal carving.