Netsuke of doctor and patient, Japanese, late 19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Netsuke is a form of miniature sculpture developed in Japan over several hundred years. Many were beautifully decorated with elaborate carving, lacquer work or inlays, and were attached to a cord and tucked into the sash of the kimono. This example is signed by its maker, Chikaaki, and depicts a doctor taking a patient's pulse. Physicians in the Far East felt 12 pulses, six in each wrist, before treating the patient. The pulses corresponded to the meridians for chi energy. Their features were described in poetic terms: 'like water dripping through a roof' or 'smooth as a flowing stream'. The bag at the doctor's side would have contained acupuncture needles, herbs and other medicines.