The small stained netsuke depicts the skinny lady in rags, sitting on a log with clear grains, overthinking her mistreatment of her lovers, with a nice patina, wear and smooth touch.
L. approx. 4.1 cm
Private collection, United Kingdom
With us, pre-2021
Ono no Komachi (小野 小町, c. 825 – c. 900) was a Japanese waka poet, one of the Rokkasen — the six best waka poets of the early Heian period. She was renowned for her unusual beauty, and Komachi is today a synonym for feminine beauty in Japan. She also counts among the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.
Legends about Komachi (小町伝説/小町説話, Komachi-densetsu/Komachi-setsuwa) had developed as early as the eleventh century. They were later used extensively by the writers of Noh plays.
Stories abound of Komachi in love. One of the legends about her is that she was a lover of Ariwara no Narihira, her contemporary poet and also a member of the Rokkasen. It has been speculated that this legend may derive from the perhaps-accidental placement of one of her poems next to one of Narihira's.
Another group of legends concern her cruel treatment of her lovers, notably Fukakusa no Shōshō, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her continuously for a hundred nights, then she would become his lover. He visited her every night, regardless of the weather, but died on the ninety-ninth night.
The third type of legend tells of an aged Komachi, depicted in this netsuke, forced to wander in ragged clothes, her beauty faded and her appearance so wretched that she is mocked by everyone around her, as punishment for her earlier mistreatment of her lovers.