We've been taking inspiration from nature for a long time—and in typical throwback fashion, this week's topic is far from new. Jizai Okimono—which translates to "move freely decorative object" and describes the art of carving animals from materials like wood, iron and copper featuring animated joints that are just as functional as the living subjects—has been around since the late 1700s. Sushi Factory, a user on Flickr, seems to have a good amount of information on the beginnings of this artform: "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."
Like with any truly memorable artform, this craft was built on a group of people with a big batch of freetime. In this instance, we can thank the metalsmiths and armor makers of centuries past for bringing this artistry to light after the demand for armor plummeted. Each subject comes with its own difficultly level—the lobster being considered the most intricate of all.
Recently, Ryosuke Ohtake—a 25-year-old artist based in Tokyo—impressed Jizai Okimono artists and enthusiasts with his carved lobster. Here's the kicker: It was his first go-around in Jizai Okimono. Here's a video of Ohtake demonstrating the flexibility of his design's joints:
Ohtake's lobster design
Not only is the lobster considered the king of all Jizai Okimono challenges, using wood is considered to be tougher than working with any of the other materials. Ohtake's design is one of thousands, many of which have found spots in antique stores and can be spotted going for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Other common forms consist of birds, fish, snakes, lobsters, crabs, dragons and insects. The sculptures' appendages are meant to be easily removable, making them perfect for knolled photos like the one below:
I stumbled upon another video from the Manchester Museum that gives us a look at how another animal moves—a dragon this time, and it's much older than Ohtake's lobster—along with more insight into the skill. Check it out:
You can find many more photos of Jizai Okimono sculptures on Flickr.