The Goto Shirobei Family

By Alexander G. Mosle, m.j.s., Imperial Japanese Consul, Leipzig.

The catalogue of the Exhibition of Arms and Armour of old Japan, held by the Japan Society in June, 1905, came to me whilst in Japan, and made me regret that I had not had the opportunity of inspecting the many objects of sword furniture which were shown there.

Particularly was I interested in the examples there exhibited of the work of the artists of the Goto Shirobei family, whose extraordinary work made them for centuries the leaders in the classical school of metalwork design ; but so little was given in the catalogue regarding the work of these artists, that I have been led to prepare the following notes upon them. The specimens signed “Goto” only, were probably made by the members of the numerous branch families of the Goto. I say here ” probably,” as I have found that all Goto, whether of the main line or branches, have either added to their family name, “Goto,” their prenomen or their art-name, or have signed their prenomen or their art-name only. I may note in this connection that I have never seen works of these in collections in Japan, which were only signed “Goto.”

But it is of the uninterrupted main line of sixteen generations of the Goto Shirobei family that I propose to confine my remarks to-night.

This family was called after its founder Goto Shirobei. The name “Shirobei” is the tsusho or torina, the name by which this artist family was known to the public, and which served as a trade-name. All the sixteen masters, with the exception of the seventh master, Kenjo, and his son Teijo, the ninth master, have used this tsusho. These had the tsusho of ” Rihei,” as they did not succeed in direct line. The reason why Kenjo, who was a younger brother of Yeijo, succeeded as head of the family, was because Sokujo, the son of Yeijo, who had inherited the tsusho of Shirobei from his father, was at the time of the latter’s death too young to undertake the duties of chief of the family. In the case of Teijo, Renjo, the son of Sokujo was too young to succeed the latter. In the orikami (certificates of authenticity) which the Goto Shirobei masters issued, they signed the tsusho ” Shirobei” together with the family name ” Goto,” and added their prenomen.

When I speak in what follows of Goto work, it is the work of this Goto Shirobei family only that is understood.

In preparing the present paper, my thanks are due to Mr. Kuwabara Yojiro, of Kobe, one of the best connoisseurs of Goto work, who has given me many hints, and has compiled the table of the Goto masters and their pupils at the end of this paper. I am further under obligation to the collectors of Goto work in Tokyo and elsewhere, who have kindly shown me the specimens they possess. From these and from my own collection I have acquired most of my knowledge.

A Japanese collector has always before his mind’s eye how a tsuba or any other sword ornament would look when actually fixed on the sword. I have shown only a part of the Goto work of my collection to illustrate this paper, which is an attempt to rectify and clear up certain points which, as far as I know, have not yet been elucidated.

In Japan the knowledge of this art is fast becoming forgotten, the new generation knowing very little about it. There still exists, however, a small club called the Kantei-ka-kwai in Tokyo, which consists of a few connoisseurs of this art, and which meets nearly every week in one of the houses of its members. Most of the specimens in my collection have been submitted to their judgment.

Very little is known in Europe about the best work of the Goto, and your Transactions contain only meagre details about this family, which has played the most prominent part in the history of art of Japan. The reason for this is that real work of the Goto masters has been at all times at a premium in Japan, higher in price than the work of masters of other schools and eagerly sought after by a large coterie of Japanese collectors. It is a common notion in Europe that most of the good specimens of sword furniture were exported to the foreign markets after the restoration. This is a great mistake, for the best pieces have seldom left the country, and foreign collectors were formerly?I may say they are even so at this moment?not prepared to pay the high prices which the Japanese connoisseurs paid, and pay, for pieces of real virtu. The masterpieces of the Goto have always been nearly exclusively in the possession of the Daimyo, and came only to the public when they were given away or sold by them. This was because the Goto Shirobei masters worked mostly for the Daimyo, the Shogun and his court. These sometimes presented one or more ” mitokoro-mono ” (or objects of three places, i.e. the kogai, the kozuka, and the pair of menuki, and not the kogai and kozuka, the menuki and the fuchi-kashira, as they are described in the catalogue of your exhibition) to each other, i.e. the Shogun to the Daimyo or vice versa, or these to their highest vassals. At the marriage of sons or daughters of Daimyo it was customary either for the son or the daughter of the princes to include in the dowry amongst other things one or more “mitokoro-mono” of one, or more, of the famous Goto masters.

The soroimono, i.e. set of uniform objects, either for a daisho (the long and small swords), called daishd-no-soroimono, or for a wakizashi, called wakizashi-no-soroimono, consisting either of the whole furniture of the daisho, i.e. one kogai (hairpin), two kozuka (little handle for the small dagger), two pairs of menuki (rivet-nuts), two tsuba (guards), two fuchi-kashira (ring and tip), eventually also the kurikata (the oval knob for the sageo cord), the uragawara (piece of metal on the scabbard below the pocket of the kozuka), the orikane (piece of metal on the scabbard below the kurikata to prevent the sword from slipping from the girdle), and the kojiri (a metal cap on the end of the scabbard); or one kogai, one kozuka, one pair of menuki, etc., for the wakizashi were also used for this purpose On other occasions mitokoro-mono and soroimono, as well as kozuka alone, were used as presents.

Many a fine specimen of the Goto art has been sold in the last twenty years at private auctions of the Daimyo, who sold part of their heirlooms for purposes of investment that would bring in income. These auctions were, up to a few years ago, not easily accessible to foreigners, and most of these pieces were acquired by Japanese collectors. At the present time it is most difficult to obtain any mitokoro-mono, as the Goto work in the possession of the former Daimyo is inscribed as ” Seishin Zaisan,” ” hereditary property,” and cannot be sold.

When I went to Japan twenty-four years ago, i.e. in 1884, there were already several large collections of sword-furniture, mostly amongst the rich bankers, who obtained possession of these objects from the Daimyo by lending money upon them, and as these articles were seldom redeemed, some of the bankers took a fancy to these objects and collected them. Also amongst the Daimyo and their higher vassals, as amongst the official classes, there were ardent collectors. One of the most famous collections, that of Mr. Kawamura Denzayemon, a well-known banker, was sold after his death in 1894, and I think that not one of the masterpieces of the Goto school which it contained went out of the country.

Another famous collection was that of M. Komura Shinobu, a rich merchant, the greater part of which was bought by Baron Iwasaki, in 1896, as nobody else was prepared at the time to pay a sum of 2500 yen for a box containing some fifty very choice specimens of sword furniture.

It was, in the times of the thirteenth and fourteenth masters, the pride of some of the Daimyo who highly valued the Goto masters, to have a whole set of mitokoro-mono or kozuka of these thirteen or fourteen masters, either all with a ryo (dragon ornament), a shishi (a dog of Foo) in many different shapes, war scenes, etc., or thirteen pieces of the different masters, all of different design.

These complete sets were also sometimes given as presents, and as specimens of all these thirteen masters with a fixed decoration could not be found at short notice by the dealers in these ornaments, the missing ones were sometimes made by the younger Goto masters, who imitated, in accordance with the wishes of their patrons, the style of the old master who was wanted, and gave them out as genuine old specimens. Private collectors in Japan soon imitated the custom of having as the backbone of their collection mitokoro-mono or kozuka of thirteen or fourteen Goto masters. I have seen several sets of these in private collections in Tokyo.

The most important of these is that of Viscount Inagaki, the former Daimyo of Shima (near Ise) in the province of Miye, who had amongst his ancestors a very ardent collector of Goto work. The Viscount has two sets of mitokoro-mono of the first thirteen masters, one ornamented with shishi (dogs of Foo) and the other ornamented with famous scenes in the civil wars. Another fine collection of fifteen mitokoro-mono, fifteen kozuka, and fifteen kogai, in a splendid old gold lacquer box, an heirloom of a Viscount Matsudaira, is now in the possession of the family of the late Mr. Kawada, former President of the Bank of Japan. When I saw this collection some of the mitokoro-mono were in use on wakizashi, and there was a paper in their place in the box, containing a statement that they were used on such and such a sword. In this connection I may mention that in the latter part of the Tokugawa regime the fashions of the make up of the daisho changed a good deal. Of course it was always a great satisfaction to take the mitokoro-mono of the old Goto masters and fix them on the new style scabbard. The new style generally came out at the new year, and the Daimyo, their higher vassals, as well as the wealthy officers of the Shogun’s court, ordered these new swords in the eleventh and twelfth month of the old year to have them ready for their visits of new-year congratulations. It is a saying that the sword dealers had so much to do in the last month of the year, that they had to work day and night, and hardly got any sleep.

There is another fine set of sixteen kozuka of the Goto masters, all ornamented with dragons in relief in different shapes, in the collection of the late Count Kuroda Kiyotaka, at one time Minister President of State in Japan. I myself have been fortunate to acquire an original lacquer box with kozuka of fifteen Goto masters with different ornaments, which came out of the possession of Daimyo.

Complete sets of mitokoro-mono and soroimono are rare in Japan. The cause of this is, that of all sword-furniture, menuki have always been in use and in constant demand, not for sword-handles only, but for ornaments on ladies’ girdles, and for portfolios and tobacco pouches. Ornaments were even taken out of the kozuka and kogai and used for the above-named purposes.

Amongst the various schools of artists of sword-furniture the Goto school had the largest repertoire of decorative motives, and when studied closely is extremely interesting, and not at all dull, as some writers on this subject have stated. As the martial spirit in Japan has run high at all times, the emblems of strength, the dragon, the dog of Foo, and famous feats of the civil wars, etc, etc, were the most favoured ornaments. But, as I said, the repertoire is very large: the ” Kinko Kantei Hiketsu” and the “Soken Kisho” give quite a number of different decorations. However, there are a legion more. It is quite certain that the compilers of these works had only limited access to the Goto sword-furniture in the possession of the Daimyo. It is contrary to Japanese etiquette to exhibit one’s treasures, and it must have been even a very difficult task for these compilers to see the different specimens -which they described in their books. In the ” Soken Kisho ” the work of only fourteen masters is described, as this book was published prior to the time of the last two masters. It has been said by different writers that with the last two masters the Goto school degenerated; but I am not of this opinion. Doubtless it may appear so, because their work is not at all uniform. The cause of this is, in my opinion, that being the end of the feudal period and troublous times, these two masters were besieged with orders and only worked themselves for very important customers, all the other work being attended to by their pupils, and to this work they added their signature.

The first eight masters seldom signed their work. In the time of Jujo (Mitsutada) and chiefly of Yenjo (Mitsutaka) their work has been identified by these experts upon request of the possessors, who engraved on the back of the kozuka and kogai the name of the artist above their own name, or wrote out certificates (orikami) giving the name of the masters, the decoration, and the value. Of Yenjo (Mitsutaka) it is said that he had very much to do in identifying the old masters, and in writing orikami for the same. The identification, either on the specimens or by orikami, of Jujd, Yenjo, and Keijo, is considered unimpeachable; but this cannot be said of Shinjo (Mitsuyoshi), or of Hojo (Mitsuaki), which have to be scrutinized with care, as undoubtedly some of them are falsely ascribed. The first four masters are not known to have made kozuka, fuchi-kashira or tsuba. The kozuka, which are found in the mitokoro-mono of these old masters, were made from the kogai, which is called kogai-naoshi (repaired kogai). The ornament, if it was not possible to take it off the kogai, was cut out of the nanako (fish-roe ground) and brazed into the surface-plate {ji-ita) of the kozuka and worked over with nanako so skilfully that the place where it was put into the ji-ita was scarcely visible. In the kozuka of the mitokoro-mono, Fig. No. 6, of Joshin.


the place where the kogai ornament is put in can be plainly seen. If the ornament was of pure gold and fastened on the shakudo kogai, it was taken off and fastened again on the newly made ji-ita. The kozuka were generally made by the masters who identified the ornament to be from such and such an old master, and put their name below that of the original artist.

Another mode of making use of the kogai ornament for a kozuka was in the so-called sodesuka = sode-kosuka (sleeve kozuka), in which the kogai ornament was framed in by a larger frame, which covered the uneven sides of the kogai ji-ita (see specimen, Fig. 29).


With the fifth master, Tokujo, the manufacture of kozuka, tsuba, and fuchi-kashira begins. Besides the ordinary kozuka, o-kozuka (large kozuka), Fig. 28, for the wakizashi, and hanzashi kozuka (half-sized kozuka). Fig. 30, for the tanto and aikuchi, were manufactured. Tsuba and fuchi-kashira, and the other small ornaments as kurikata, etc., were, however, seldom made by the earlier Goto masters, and are extremely rare, and therefore highly priced. These ornaments were usually fashioned superbly and designed for swords in the possession of Daimyo.

The first four masters did not know the heating or chemical processes in gold incrustation. They worked in shakudo and in gold, often made the menuki of gold and the ornaments on the kogai also of gold. However, they have often made menuki and kogai in shakudo, and to obtain certain effects encrusted only a part of the ornament with gold. The gold plaquettes were riveted into very small holes.


(uttori iroye = riveted plating), and then the holes were closed by hammering in the sides. In old and long used ornaments the gold is generally rubbed off on certain places (Fig. 7, kogai-menuki by Joshin).

This rubbing off has not been done on purpose to obtain effect, as has been stated. Sometimes the gold has entirely disappeared, and one sees only a small strip of gold where it has been riveted.

The fifth master, Tokujo, is known to have been the first to employ chemical processes in gold incrustation. Up to his time, under the Ashikaga shogun, the old masters had chiefly worked furniture for the katana and wakizashi. Tokujo, being court chiseller of the Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi, also worked ornaments for the tacit (court swords), chiefly for the Taiko and his court. From Taiko’s time downward to the end of the feudal period the Daimyo and highest vassals of the Shogun, when they went in their palanquin to the audiences of the Emperor or to the Shogun, wore generally a short sword {wakizashi) which was called Kamishimo-zashi, because these nobles wore the court dress called ” kamishimo ” when going to the audiences, or denchu-zashi (palace sword). It is here where the Goto ornaments reigned supreme. These kamishimo-zashi bore nearly exclusively ornaments made by the Goto Shirobei family, i.e. the mitokoro-mono. The tsuba and fuchi-kashira were either plain shakudo-nanako or shakudo-nanako with the crest of the Tokugawa or the great Daimyo. These last were generally made by special nanako artists, and are rarely signed. Plain iron tsuba of renowned artists are also found amongst these. The scabbard of this kamishimo-zashi was always in plain black lacquer. The mitokoro-mono was perforce of shakudo-nanako with gold decoration in relief, chiefly dragons, dogs of Foo, scenes of great wars, or of the bugaku and no-kyogen panto-mimes, flowers, and many other subjects. The braid covering of the handle of these kamishimo-zashi was different to other wakizashi, as the braid was plaited over the kashira, which process is called makikaki-no-kashira. Illustration of kamishimo-zashi, Fig. 18, by Kenjo.

In my opinion these kamishimo-zashi represent the supreme type of sword amongst the many styles during the Tokugawa period. Contrast in this regard the fine and dignified black lacquered scabbard with furniture in shakudo, ornamented in gold relief on nanako ground, with examples of the tawdry and over-decorated scabbards of many other schools.

The third Shogun, Iemitsu, 1623-1651, and his court were very luxurious, and from this time kogai, kozuka, and tsuba were sometimes made of solid gold. Such solid gold ornaments have been also much used in the Genroku period, when the Daimyo vied with each other in luxurious sword ornaments. There is a proverb saying : Kin-tsuba sasu-ka, komo kaburu-ka ? ” Will he wear a tsuba of gold [on his sword] or will he put on a straw mat ?” The meaning of it is: ” Will he become a rich man or a beggar ?” Many of the gold tsuba and other ornaments of solid gold were melted down during the time of the restoration. Of the known gold tsuba is one belonging to Viscount Akimoto, the former Daimyo of Tatebayashi (Joshu), which is not signed, and is probably the work of Renjo (Mitsutomo). The ornament consists of two dragons a jour (nihiki ryo-no-sukashi). Another tsuba by Goto Mitsutomo (Renjo), signed by himself, which came from the treasure house of Count So, the former Daimyo of Tsushima, into the possession of a rich gentleman in Tokyo, Mr. Asada Masabumi, was stolen in 1898, with many other gold ornaments of the Goto school, and has evidently been melted down. This one had a weight of 60 momme (about 240 grammes) in pure gold. It represented a dragon a jour (ganryo-sukashi). In the treasure houses of the great Daimyo, the Princes Shimazu and Mori, the Marquises Mayeda, Kuroda, etc., solid gold ornaments may yet be found.

Of kogai and kozuka in solid gold few are known, but it is possible that there are some still amongst the heirlooms of the great Daimyo families. I have been fortunate in acquiring quite a number of solid gold ornaments at one stroke. On these, for years, one of the oldest private banks in osaka had lent money. They are kogai and kozuka to match, by Yenjo and signed Goto Mitsutaka, Fig. 40, one kozuka unsigned, but unquestionably made by Sokujo, Fig. 22, and one kozuka made and signed by Takeshima Ichiju, the famous pupil of Tsujo; moreover, one kozuka in kebori (hair-carving) and katakiri-bori cutting the lines of a design in channels of varying depth and width so as to suggest brush-work rather than chiselling (vide Capt. Brinkley, ” Japan, its History, Arts and Literature “), made and signed by Somin with his small signature, evidently made when he was still young and working in Kyoto under his master Goto Renjo, and two pairs of menuki, unsigned but identified on account of their richness in gold on the back as by Goto Yenjo.

The above-named ornaments were submitted for examination to the chief gold expert of the Nippon Ginko (The Bank of Japan), Mr. Moribe Tokuzo, who found that the kogai and kozuka of Yenjo contained 80 per cent., the kozuka of Sokujo 75 per cent., the kozuka by Ichiju 83 per cent., the kozuka by Aomin 77 per cent, of pure gold.

It has yet to be mentioned that the purity of the gold in the Goto ornaments is greater than that in other schools.

These solid gold ornaments were mostly used by the Daimyo, but when with the Genroku period luxury became general, even some of the richer merchants, who were allowed to wear one sword, used pure gold ornaments. ‘ This lasted up to the beginning of the Tempo era (1830), when the state finances were at a low ebb and the famous Mizuno Tadakuni Echizen-no-kami, Daimyo of Karatsu, in Hizen, who was at the time Shoshidai, i.e. the Shogun’s representative in Kyoto, called together all the officials under him and ordered them to see that the people did not indulge in luxuries and became more thrifty. The people were not allowed to use any more ornaments of solid gold. To elude this law, those who wanted to use solid gold had the gold ornaments covered with black lacquer. I have seen a wakizashi which is in the possession of a Kobe gentleman, Mr. Mitsumura Toshimo on which the fuchi-kashira by Shinjo the fifteenth Goto master are in pure gold, covered with black lacquer, and the lacquer scratched off only in the form of the outlines of waves. The tsuba is likewise of solid gold with a cover of black lacquer and lines of waves, and is made by Tokuoki, a renowned Kyoto artist.

After these general remarks I now come to the founder of the Goto main school, Goto Shirobei, with the art-name of Yujo. Yujo, prenomen Masaoku (1439-1512), is considered to this day to have been the greatest master in the art of sword furniture. Of him and his two successors, Kano Natsuo, the last great master of this obsolete art says, that it is impossible to manufacture an imitation of their works, as in them there is an inimitable cachet. Natsuo himself tried several times to imitate a dragon menuki of Yujo, but did not succeed and had to give it up. Yujo came of a samurai family from the province of Mino, and it is very probable that there were artists who made kogai and menuki before him, but who were not of such prominence and whose names have not been handed down to us.

Yujo’s work is very rare. I have seen a mitokoro-mono in shakudo, ornamented with dogs of Fo in high relief, each of the menuki consisting of a group of three dogs in gold. These latter are in a better state of preservation than the kogai and kozuka which have on nanako ground dogs in gold, a good deal rubbed by long use. This mitokoro-mono is certified by Mitsutada (Jujo). It is in the collection of Mr. Kato, a director of the Nippon Yusen Kwaisha in Tokyo. In my collection is a mitokoro-mono of Yujo, certified by Mitsutaka (Yenjo) on the kogai and kozuka, and also by an orikami. Evidently the kogai and kozuka are by Mitsutaka with the old ornaments of Yujo fixed on them. The colour of the gold is different from the colour of the usual gold ornaments of Yujo, and it seems that Mitsutaka gave them an artificial colour (probably by means of a pickling solution) to produce a more reddish gold colour, which was the fashion in his time. The ornaments are dragons {kurikara-ryo). This mitokoro-mono came from a wealthy family in Ise, which had kept it for generations. It is in the original box, on the black lacquered cover of which is written in gold characters:

Saku Yujo (Yujo’s work).

Mitsutaka no horitsuke art (signed by Mitsutaka) Kin kurikara-ryo (gold kurikara-dragon) Mitokoro-mono. Dai 800 kwan (Value 800 kwan) = .£160, about.

This is the kind of box used in olden times for these mitokoro-mono, when they were preserved by the nobles or given away as presents. The box was made at the time of attestation, i.e. 133 years ago.

The illustration, Fig. 1, shows a daisho-soroimono of my collection,the menuki made by Yujo, the kogai and kozuka by Mitsutaka, with ornaments by Yujo, the daisho-fuchi-kashira made to match the mitokoro-mono by Morimura Atsutaka, beginning of nineteenth century, the most famous pupil of Mitsuyoshi (Shinjo), the fifteenth master. The ornuaments are dogs of Fo, one with open, and the other with closed mouth, which is called a-un and has a Buddhistic origin. The colour of the gold of the Yujo ornaments is the original colour, a yellowish gold in comparison with the reddish gold of the above-described mitokoro. An orikami signed Mitsutaka is attached. This orikami, Fig. 2, reads




Yujo’s son, the second master Sojo (Takemitsu) 1460-1538, worked mostly on the lines of his father, but his style is, as far as I can judge from the specimens I have seen of both masters, freer and more elaborate. Fig. 3 shows a mitokoro-mono in shakudo and gold, ornamented with dragons in relief {kurikara-ryo), and certified by Mitsutomo (Renjo). Fig. 5, a kozuka in shakudo ornamented with bamboo leaves, unsigned. It is in the original box in which the Daimyo presented these objects to his vassal, and came originally from the Daimyo of Kaga. Fig. 4, a pair of menuki in gold of very high purity (90 per cent), representing a crab with bamboo branches.

The work of the third master, Joshin (Yoshihisa), has been very much appreciated on account of its high relief. He was the son of Sojo, and lived from 1511-1562. The work is far bolder than that of his predecessors. He is known to have signed some of his work. In the possession of Mr. Kiyota, a gentleman of Tosa, living in Tokyo, is a mitokoro-mono, signed by Joshin and representing a monkey trying to seize the moon. An illustration of this can be found in the ” Kinko Kantei Hiketsu.” Fig. 6 shows a mitokoro-mono identified by Renjo, representing a mukade (centipede) on branches with leaves on nanako ground. This came out of the possession of a Daimyo. On the kozuka can be clearly seen how the kogai ornament is worked into the ji-ita. I have a fuchi-kashira in my collection in shakudo on which there are three gold shishi by Joshin, identified by Mitsutaka, in the original box. On the box is written

Saku Joshin (Joshin’s work) Mitsutaka Kiwame (certified by Mitsutaka). Kin Sanbiki-shishi (3 gold lions). Fuchi kashira. Dai: hyaku kwan (Value 100 kwan, about £20) Orikami

kogai-menuki, Fig. 7, are of shakudo with oxen ornament in high relief.

The fourth master, Kojo (Mitsuiye) son of Joshin, 1530-1620, was very skillful. His work goes more into detail and is very rare. The mitokoro-mono, Fig. 8, represents Nitta Yoshisada on the kozuka and Kojima Takanori on the kogai, Kusunoki Masashige and his son Masatsura on the menuki. The figures in gold on the kozuka and kogai have been executed by Kojo, the other decoration by Kenjo, and the whole is identified by Mitsutaka. The menuki are of a later period and by Sato Yoshiteru, Kyoto, a famous pupil of Goto Ichijo.

Figs. 9 and 10 show menuki in shakudo representing dogs and shishi respectively, which are executed in a very powerful style.

Kojo’s son, Tokujo (Mitsutsugu), 1549-1631, the fifth master, enlarges the scope of his predecessors with the manufacture of tsuba and kozuka. He revived the models of Yujo, and his work is therefore not very different from that of his predecessors. His work falls in the time of the Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and he naturally did much work for this famous general. As the kiri (Paulownia imperialis) crest had been bestowed upon Hideyoshi by the Emperor, Tokujo’s work shows frequently this crest in gold on shakudo. This crest has always been a favourite one in Japan, and pieces adorned with it were eagerly sought after and were high in price. Tokujo became court-chiseller of the Taiko and made the metal ornaments of the Taiko’s state palanquins, which were adorned with his crest. As an official of the Mint of the Shogun’s government, he designed and made the models for the gold o-ban.

Fig. 11 shows a mitokoro-mono of Tokujo in shakudo and gold identified by Kakujo (Goto Kakujo died 1656, of a branch line). The pair of menuki were made by Kenjo. The subject is a spider on a willow leaf floating on a stream, from which came the first conception of a boat. Fig. 12, a kozuka with the kiri {wagiri) crest, unsigned. Fig. 13, a tsuba for a tachi in gilded copper, with the kiri crest upon waves.




The sixth master, Yeijo (Masamitsu or Masafusa), was the son of Tokujo, and lived from 1574-1617. His work is not so characteristic as that of his predecessor, and he was the weakest amongst the first six masters. He also leant upon the models of Yûjo. The kozuka and menuki, Fig. 14, representing Tanabata (a Chinese mythological story of stars) in shakudo and gold, with certificate for the kozuka of Mitsutada (Jujo), show the type of his work; the menuki are made and signed by Goto Mitsunaga (Seijo, of a branch line, died 1688). Fig. 16, tsuba in shakudo and gold, with the kiri crest identified by Mitsutaka (Yenjo). Menuki representing carriers of a Daimyo procession.

As Yeijo’s son Sokujo was too young when his father died, his younger brother, Kenjo (Masatsugu), 1585-1663, became the successor of Yeijo. Kenjo brought new life into the school, and, contrary to his predecessors, took to new models, and his ornaments are not so rigid and more graceful. He was a very skilful master, and widened again the scope of the work, while he made whole sets {soroimono) of sword furniture. He also used copper and silver. The mitokoro-mono on the Kamishimo-zashi, illustrated Fig. 18, in shakudo nanako, with gold figures of the Bugaku (ancient court pantomime) identified by Mitsumori (Keijo), shows the excellence of his work. Fig. 19, a wakizashi, with a mitokoro-mono in shakudo and gold, representing autumn flowers, identified by Mitsuyoshi (Shinjo) ; the fuchi-kashira and the tsuba are by Shinj5 the fifteenth master. Fig. 17 shows a fuchi-kashira and a kurikata, attested by Mitsuaki (Hoj5). The ornament is a hedge with autumn flowers; this belongs to a soroimono of which the tsuba was made by Renjo, the kozuka, kogai, uragawara, origane and kojiri by Mitsuaki (Hojo), Fig. 17. His nephew Sokujo, 1603-1631, was his successor and worked in the same style. Unfortunately he died young, in 1631, for, had his career not been cut short, he would probably have been one of the greatest of masters. His work is even more delicate than that of Kenjo. The kogai and kozuka in shakudo-nanako and golden figures in relief (Fig. 21) of the No-kyogen, a comical theatrical performance, identified by Mitsutaka, is perhaps the best work I have seen of any of the Goto. Fig. 22, a kozuka in solid gold, decorated with the famous Chinese musician Ki with a flute and dancing tortoises, unsigned, but undoubtedly the work of Sokujo. Fig. 23, Fuchi-kashira, made by Mitsuyoshi (Shinjo), with the ornament of a saddled horse in gold on the fuchi by Sokujo and a spider’s web on the kashira, identified by Mitsuyoshi (Shinjo).

Kenjo’s son, the next master, called Teij5 (Mitsumasa), 1603-167 3, had no special talent; he went back to the ancient models of the early masters, and his style is somewhat rigid. He died in 1673, 70 years old.

Many tsuba and fuchi-kashira by him are known. His favourite ornaments were war-scenes. He also introduced zogan (inlaid work) and kebori (hair-carving) into his work. Fig. 24 shows a mitokoro-mono in his rigid style, various shells, on shakudo-nanako identified by Mitsuaki (Hoj5),and Fig. 27, a tsuba in shakudo, with floating chrysanthemum ornament, signed by himself. So also by him are tsuba of a Daimyo, Fig. 26, unsigned, in shakudo and gold, on the front side scenes of the Ujigawa, and on the back the Ichinotani battles, the Sodesuka in silver. Fig. 29, ji-ita in shakudo with pheasant, identified by Renjo. Also kozuka-menuki with Benkei and the Gojo-bridge on the kozuka, the menuki, one with Benkei, the other with Ushiwaka (Yoshitsune), Fig. 25.

With the tenth master, Renjo (Mitsutomo), 1627-1709, the son of Sokujo, a very busy period began.

Renjo was a very skilful master and had many famous pupils. He created new models, and he was the first to take his domicile in Yedo and work at the Shogun’s court, where, it is said, his work became more elaborate. Fig. 31 shows a mitokoro-mono in shakudo with gold and silver, representing scenes of the Gempei campaign, identified by Mitsuyoshi (Shinjo), probably made in Yedo. So also Fig. 33, a tsuba, identified by Mitsuyoshi (Shinjo), cranes and young pine trees, in shakudo; and Fig. 32, kozuka in shakudo, with arrow in high relief, signed by himself.

Renjo had no direct issue, and adopted as his successor Tsûjo (Mitsunaga), 1668-1722, the son of Goto Senjo. Tsujo had been always considered an exceptionally skilful master until Natsuo investigated his work. According to Natsuo, who studied many specimens of his work, Tsûjo was not so skilful as was believed, although he must be counted amongst the great masters. Tsûjo, influenced by Somin, worked also in kebori (hair-carving). By him are the kozuka and menuki in shakudo and gold, orikami by Mitsutaka (Yenjo) ornament dragon (Kemmaki-ryo), Fig. 34. Kozuka in shakudo on nanako, galloping horse in high gold relief, Fig. 36. Fuchi-kashira with suisen (iris) and mandarin ducks of very fine workmanship, in shakudo, signed by himself.





Renjo had no direct issue, and adopted as his successor Tsûjo (Mitsunaga), 1668-1722, the son of Goto Senjo. Tsujo had been always considered an exceptionally skilful master until Natsuo investigated his work. According to Natsuo, who studied many specimens of his work, Tsûjo was not so skilful as was believed, although he must be counted amongst the great masters. Tsûjo, influenced by Somin, worked also in kebori (hair-carving). By him are the kozuka and menuki in shakudo and gold, orikami by Mitsutaka (Yenjo) ornament dragon (Kemmaki-ryo), Fig. 34. Kozuka in shakudo on nanako, galloping horse in high gold relief, Fig. 36. Fuchi-kashira with suisen (iris) and mandarin ducks of very fine workmanship, in shakudo, signed by himself.

Jujo (Mitsutada), 1694-1742, the twelfth Goto master, who follows next, was Tsûjo’s son. His work does not come up to the standard of the Goto masters, and is considered the poorest compared with that of his predecessors. He, however, did some good work, and used also corals and semi-precious Chinese stones in his sword ornaments. Fig. 37 is a mitokoro-mono signed by himself, in shakudo, gold and silver, representing Hotei in various attitudes. Gold cranes on daisho-tsuba in shakudo nanako, identified by Mitsutaka (Yenjo), the tsuba made by the latter. These tsuba are on a pair of Daimyo swords (Fig. 20 shows the wakizashi), superb in their simplicity. The kozuka, fuchi, and menuki are made and signed by Goto Mitsunaga (Tsûjo). The kashira are in horn, and the braid is plaited over the kashira (makikake-no-kashira). The selection of horn over decorated metal in the kashira was entirely a matter of taste, and I think very good taste. It is found often on Daimyo swords and on swords where the fuchi is profusely decorated. For instance, with fuchi of the Hirata masters, who worked in shippo (enamel), a horn kashira is the rule. By him also is the kozuka, Fig. 39, in shakudo, inlaid with semi-precious Chinese stones, mandarin ducks floating on water, unsigned, and the fuchi-kashira, signed by himself, in shakudo, with crows (Fig. 38).

Jujo’s son Yenjo, at first Mitsunari, later Mitsutaka, 1720-1784, was far more skilful than his father, and must be counted amongst the greatest Goto masters. Specimens of his work are, however, rare. It is said of him, that all the old unsigned Goto work was brought to him to be identified. Yenjo used gold profusely, and the backs of his menuki show this : they can be easily recognised. His motives are elegant and easier than most of the Goto masters.

The following are by him : kozuka and kogai, Fig. 40, in solid gold, signed by himself, with oxen as ornament; menuki, Fig. 41, in gold, shishi. Fuchi-kashira in shakudo, camellias and flute, own signature (Fig. 42). There is a kozuka in silver in my collection, with flower ornaments, signed by the three brothers Mitsutaka (Yenjo), Mitsumori (Keijo), and Mitsusuke.

Keijo (Mitsumori), the third son of Jujo, younger brother of Yenjo, was the fourteenth master, 1739-1804. He was a skilful worker and favoured copper, but his work does not come up to the high standard of his elder brother Yenjo. Although he lived to the age of sixty-five, his work is very rare, probably because he lived only twenty years longer than his brother Yenjo and formerly worked for him. In his earlier youth he was called Kichigoro, and I have a kozuka (Fig. 44) in my collection decorated with a branch of a persimmon tree on copper, signed Goto Kichigoro, aged ten years. Fig. 43 shows a kogai and pair of menuki by him in copper, decorated with Phoenix (ho5), tortoise, and kirin, signed Goto Mitsumori. By him also is a tsuba, Fig. 45, in copper, with pine and birds {chidori), identified by Mitsuaki (H5jo). Count Kuroda Kiyotaka has in his collection a mitokoro-mono in shakudo and gold, decorated with hens and chickens, signed by Goto Mitsumori, in excellent style.

Keijo’s son, Shinjo (Mitsuyoshi), was the fifteenth master, 1780-1834. As I have already stated, his work is uneven. What he worked himself for important customers is of very fine workmanship, whereas other specimens are rather weak. He had many pupils, and during his time, probably, the greatest number of sword ornaments were used. Most of the specimens signed by him were made by his pupils. The wakizashi, Fig. 19, shows his work, and the fuchi-kashira and tsuba, decorated with autumn flowers and a doe, were made by him, signed Got5 Mitsuyoshi, fifty-five years old, Tempo, fifth year, the first month of the horse, on a lucky day (1834). So, too, the Daisho-tsukamaye (court sword-handles with fuchi-kashira and menuki), in shakudo and gold, decorated with flower baskets, signed Goto Mitsuyoshi, from the possession of a Daimyo, in excellent style, Fig. 46. Also the kozuka, Fig. 47, tortoise in gold on shakudo-nanako, signed Goto Mitsuyoshi.



Hojo (Mitsuaki), the sixteenth and last master, surpassed his father Shinjo in workmanship, and was a worthy last master of this famous artist family. His work is more characteristic and higher in relief than that of his two predecessors. By him are Mitokoro-mono and daisho-fuchi-kashira, Fig. 48, implements of hunting, riding, and fishing in shakudo, from the collection of Viscount Akimoto, former Daimyo of Tatebayashi. Also kozuka and menuki, Fig. 49, of very delicate workmanship in shakudo, ajisai (hydrangea). The hydrangea flower has been very rarely used as an ornament on account of its colour not being uniform. For this reason the samurai disliked the flower, as a samurai’s character must never vacillate. I have seen it used by Hojo only.

With Hojo, who died in 1856, the uninterrupted line of sixteen generations of the Goto Shirobei terminated. Hojo had no son who could succeed him in his work. His only son was an official of the Shogun’s mint in Yedo, and did not practise the art of a chiseller. As, however, the position of successor of the Goto Shirobei family was a very proud one, two or three years after the death of Hojo, three candidates for his succession com­peted for the position of seventeenth Goto master. These were three pupils of Goto Ichijo, Mitsumasa, Mitsuhira, and Mitsunori. As they were all very eager to get the coveted position, Goto Ichijo came to Yedo to arrange the matter and to give the position to his nephew Mitsunori, Mitsunori has, however, never been recognised as the seventeenth Goto master, because he had not received the personal approval of Hojo in his lifetime. Very little of his work is known, and what is known is entirely in Ichijo’s style and similar to Mitsumasa’s work.

I hope that I have not wearied you with this long paper.Mr. Harding-Smith, Member of Council, J.S., said that it had come somewhat as a surprise to him, that in this particular branch of Japanese art, that simple and picturesque element which one was accustomed to associate with things Japanese was so lacking. It was evidently an art entirely different, from that, for instance, upon which a paper had been read the preceding month, namely the pottery of the Cha-no- Yu, where the objects exhibited were rough and simple in form, but essentially picturesque. Here the ornaments of the Goto School all appeared to be of the utmost neatness and precision, with an amount of finish somewhat surprising to Europeans, to whom, he thought, the less formal kinds of Japanese art appealed more. The lecture, however, had been so interesting that he hoped that it would lead to a better understanding of the subject.

Mr. Joly, M.J.S., remarked that the history of the Goto school has been attempted several times with varying success, for little informa­tion had hitherto been available on the subject of the artists or their work. The paper which Mr. Mosle* had just read might therefore be said to be the first to deal with the subject in an adequate manner, which was rendered more interesting and valuable by the wonderful array of sword mounts displayed by him.

In the preface of the Soken Kisho, we are told that he who would learn how to judge sword furniture must first become conversant with the Okite, that is to say, the characteristics of the chisel-work of the fourteen Goto masters, fourteen being the number of generations up to the time when Michitatsu wrote that work; and these details of technique were given in no European books, the only Japanese book dealing with them being the Kinko Kantei Hiketsu of Nariaki Noda, of which the speaker had had a translation made.

That book, however, left alone the biographical part of the subject, to which it referred its readers to the Kinko Meifu. The Soken Kisho merely gave one poetry by way of description of work. Even the National Biographical Dictionary, the Jimmei Jisho, gave only one Shirobei, that being Riûjo (son of Kaijo), who, according to all other Japanese works, was named Shichirobei, a circumstance which at first, alter a cursory glance at the notification of the title of the paper, led one to think that Mr. Mosle intended to deal with Riûjo.

The Author had not given much biographical detail, nor had he gone into the details of technique by which the various masters could be discriminated from one another, but the speaker felt quite in agree­ment with him that the ornaments shown as by Yûjo may consist of gold parts by Yûjo, remounted at a much later date on new bases, especially as there is much doubt as to whether Yujo ever made kozuka.

There is some evidence that fuchi-kashira were made by Sojo, or at any rate attributed to him in early days.

The Author mentioned orikami. These originated with Tokujo, who, in fact, was the first to certify the work of his predecessor and sign them with their names, as well as being the first Goto to use Shibuichi. There is a menuki, described by Nariaki Noda, which he apparently inlaid with the signature of Yujo in gold. Orikami and signatures were often forged. The Goto had, we are told, a special tool called gimmi tagane, with which they marked in some secret way the pieces of sword furniture submitted to them for judgment, and which they rejected or not as being by members of their family, so that only those within the family knew what the mysterious sign was, or in which corner or fold of the work it was to be found. The speaker supposed that it was some nanako chisel, larger than usual, which might make an impression over a grain of nanako noticeable to the initiated but invisible to the profane. Perhaps Mr. Mosle could enlighten the audience on that point.

The paper promised to become a classic, and the speaker’s transla­tions of the Kinko Kantei Hiketsu therefore were threatened, and might be relegated for some time into a corner, although dealing as it did with the technique, it might form a useful appendix to Mr. Mosle’s paper, and if the Society cared to print it in connection with the paper they were welcome to it.

The Chairman remarked that there were several interesting points raised in connection with the paper, and he was sure that all would agree with him in regarding Mr. Mosle’s paper as a valuable contribution to the knowledge of sword furniture. In no country in the world had the sword received such a position of honour and renown as in Japan, for it was there regarded as being of divine origin. It had been termed “the soul of the Samurai” and as such was treasured by him as his most precious possession. On that account the greatest care and skill had been bestowed upon its mounts. In olden times every man who had anything to do with work connected with the sword was supposed to be engaged in honourable work, and no work was con­sidered more honourable than that of the smith; one had even heard of an emperor assisting in the forging of a sword-blade.

With regard to what Mr. Harding-Smith had said about the formality of these ornaments, we had to remember that in those olden, troublous times, when the sword was almost daily in use as a fighting weapon, its mounts were few in number and simple, generally representing emblems of strength, i.e. a dragon, or the dogs of war. But when we came to the long period of peace in Japan under the Tokogawa shogunate, the sword was rarely required for use in war, and consequently by degrees it gradually suffered a certain amount of degradation. That is to say, from being a fighting weapon it became, to a very great extent, merely a personal ornament. Then the ornamental mounts increased in number, and the grip and scabbard were overlaid very lavishly with decoration. Of those older ornaments very few were extant; but, thanks to the author of the paper, those present were enabled to see some of them exhibited that evening.

With regard to the materials used by the Goto family, the gold was generally of very high purity, purer than the native gold obtained by washing the sands of the various rivers (where in Japan gold-dust abounded), for that gold generally would not contain more than 87 to 90 per cent, of the metal; but for the Goto ornaments, as well as for those of the less distinguished masters, that dust was purified to the extent of its containing sometimes as much as 98 per cent, of gold. But the majority of the masters who worked in sword furniture were content to use the gold of the coinage of the period in which they lived. That gold was very valuable in composition, for in the sixteenth century it contained as much as 74 per cent, of gold ; a hundred and fifty years later, however, owing to the poverty of the exchequer, the coins became debased, and then contained only 65 per cent, of gold ; a hundred and fifty years later still, only 35 per cent.

The process adopted by the sword-makers, or makers of gold orna­ments, for colouring the gold (which was absolutely white), in those old examples, was very ingenious. They boiled the ornament, after it was made, in plum juice, mixed in certain chemicals, and filtered out the silver, so that the pure gold might remain on the surface. Later on gilding was introduced; but the best masters never gilded, but always adopted the above process.

Professor Gowland, Member of Council, J.S., said he had himself had experience of the above method. A casket found in the Temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sun, had been brought to him to be melted down. Before doing so, he had thought it better to have a representative from the temple present, so two or three of the priests came and watched the melting. To their surprise it came out like silver ; but on assaying it, the alloy contained 68 per cent, of gold, and the rest was silver. On inquiring into the date in which the casket had been made, it was found that its composition corresponded with the composition of the large gold coins issued during the same period.

With regard to another kind of alloy—the black alloy—it was merely black on the surface, and was the only alloy in existence which would admit of such a beautiful black colour and sheen. It consisted of copper alloyed with only 5 per cent, of gold, but without the gold it was impossible to get the colour. When it was cast, the metal resembled only copper. That alloy had been in use as far back as about 1320, and since then had been used by all art workers.

With regard to the ornaments exhibited that evening, there was a very singular absence of silver, which was surprising.

The Goto family, however, were not only noted as art workers, but, as the author of the paper had said, one of them was a mint official, and it was his duty not only to design the coins but to sign them; and an illustration was given of the large gold coin called the o-ban, showing, on the lower part, Goto’s signature or monogram, made especially distinct to safeguard it against counterfeiters.

Copyright c 2006 The Japan Society, London.

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