Netsuke inscribed with acupuncture meridians, Japanese, 18th-19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Netsuke is a form of miniature sculpture developed in Japan over several hundred years. They were often beautifully decorated with elaborate carving, lacquer work, or inlays, and were attached to the end of a cord and tucked into the sash of the kimono. This ivory netsuke is inscribed with acupuncture meridians and was designed to show the venous system. Acupuncture consists of the insertion into the skin of fine needles, at the points or meridians relating to the tisue or organ believed to be disordered. By inserting the needles into the paths taken by the 'chi' or 'qi', the life force which flows around the body, the paths become unblocked and harmonious energy flow and good health is restored.