Jizai Okimono are realistically shaped figures of animals made from iron, copper, shibuichi (copper and silver alloy) and shakudo (copper and gold alloy). Their bodies and limbs are articulated, and can be moved like real animals. Among these ornamental figures, models of birds, fishes, snakes, lobsters, crabs and insects, as well as imaginary beings such as dragons, are common.
The bodies of the dragons can be made to undulate, and their limbs can bend and even their claws can be extended. Likewise, the birds can spread their wings and turn their heads. Typical insects include stag beetles, dragonflies and butterflies, which are able to imitate all the movements of their real life counterparts. Among works which bear dates, the earliest known is a dragon bearing a line-engraved signature of its maker Myochin Muneaki dated 1713. This is followed by a butterfly with a line-engraved signature by craftsman Myochin Muneyasu, dated 1753. From these dates, we know that jizai okimono were already in production in the first half of the 18th century, during the middle Edo period. The Myochins were armor makers who excelled in iron forging and hammer work, and are thought to have produced these okimono (ornamental figures) in the peaceful time of the mid-Edo period. Jizai okimono began to be exported overseas in the Meiji period (1868-1912), with the studio of Takase Kozan as their major producers. Kozan used bronze and shibuichi in addition to iron, working to make their works more realistic by using metals of different colors. We hope you enjoy discovering more about the fascinating world of metal craftsmanship, and how techniques initially used to create realistic still figures were developed to create these movable works.