by Dr. Kazutaro Torigoye

We can be rightly proud of old Japan and it's culture, and in order to truly appreciate the Arts of Japan, homage is due to her many craftsmen; perhaps it was they who in large part contributed to the culture of old Japan which the world has learned to love.

Here I will speak briefly of the thousands of fine metal workers, most of whom had inborn genius, whether of noble birth or of common origin.

My heart and imagination have been occupied with tracing their activities ever since my student days at Clark University in the USA. Did some work for the sake of art alone while others worked for bread alone? From the time of the establishment of the Shogunate (1336) and right up to the Imperial Restoration (1868) these artists have worked untiringly in a continous succession of master and student, and at times also simply as individual craftsmen without school affiliation. It is a strange and significant fact that, despite the harsh living conditions and the primitive medical facilities of the time, these craftsmen enjoyed a long and vigorous life. The exception was Sokujo, the 18th Goto master, who died at battle at the age of 32. Truly the popular sayings "THE DESTINATION OF HUMAN LIFE IS ONLY 50" and "HUMAN LIFE IS EVERVESCENT AS THE MORNING DEW" applied most aptly.

And now to the topic of the metal worker's art; the strongest work of the Kinko has always been the small Sword Fittings; they seem instinctively to have realized that the making of tsuba did not show their work to best advantage. Their reproductions included designs from Nature and from the many legendary and historical/mythological subjects rendered in exquisite chisel work; they depicted the various emotions with equal acuity. In the case of Kogai, their shape was an additional factor to illustrate their ability to reproduce their chosen subject with sure power.

The Fuchi-Kashira sets are particularly fascinating in their combinations of designs that fit and match the two. Of the four types of Sword Fittings, Kogai, Kozuka, Fuchi-Kashira and Menuki, the latter are my favorite; with their three-dimensional quality they can communicate ideas most clearly.

Sword fittings of all kinds had a particular appeal to merchants of wealth, who at the time surpassed the aristocracy in monetary power. The craftsmanship involved and the precious metals used all added to that appeal.

The apex of the old Japanese civilization came during the Genroku period, late 16th to early 17th centuries. It was then that the materials used to make Sword fittings became ever more varied and comprised a huge variety of metals and their alloys - each designed to emphasize a delicate nuance or shading.

The subjects depicted varied equally as much and were chosen from historical and traditional legends and from folk-tales, poems, nature, animals and plants and even included foreign subjects depicted purely from imagination! The political climate of the day did not allow for complaints from the common people against their superiors, and so satire was yet another form of subject for the decoration of Sword Fittings. A subtle example of this is the Higo Fuchi-Kashira on p.163, whose unusual shape of Kurigata constitutes a satirical allusion. (TOSO SORAN of which Dr. Torigoye is referring to here)

Beauty is generally thought to be something pretty, but in reality true beauty is composed of simplicity of soul, refined language, simple shape and modest expression. And, although the ways and modes of expression differ according to the time and place, fundamental values reign above them. Other superb masterpieces of this golden Renaissance age are to be found among drawings, paintings, sumie-E (India Ink Paintings) and among the works of the Ukiyoe artists, who were particularly adept at satirical depictions.



The work of the Goto, the so-called Iebori, has fascinated people and enamoured them with its noble beauty for four hundred years - from the time of Yojo, the first Goto master, until the practical extinction of Kinko work which came with the abolishment of Sword wearing. Machibori also gained a measure of popularity, but was never stooped to by the Goto.

The involved Goto lineage cannot be told in a few words; there were many descendants and students in the main line, as well as the Goto side line artists who flourished widely. Although the skill of the latter equalled that of the main line artists, they had to be content to work as their underlings or else move to distant provinces, where under the patronage of the local lord they spread the Goto fame.

In attempting to classify the work of the Goto artists, one must single out the earlier generations: Yujo, Sojo and Joshin as being the most original. The fourth, fifth and even the sixth, Goto Eijo, had great skill; the work began to decline thereafter and few geniuses were evident among the later Goto artists. It seems that they merely took life easy and their fame was due only to their adherance to the Iebori technique. Their compositions were ordinary and uninspired and it remained for Ichijo to raise the then standards above the ordinary. He was a great master and he re-established a new vision to the declining Iebori technique. While his work tended to resemble Tsujo's (the 11th Goto master) he also introduced fresh ideas and he successfully combined the machibori techniques with Iebori. There was no peer for him during his lifetime, and he was made Hogen, raised from the rank of Hokyo, at age 34. His depictions of nature, animals and plant life as well as landscape, are unsurpassed. A good example of his genius is the pipe illustrated on page 196 (TOSO SORAN) which he co-worked with Kikuoka Mitsushige the 3rd. If Ichijo lived and worked today, he would doubtlessly have been designated a Human Treasure and won coveted Academy Awards.


Although Mino bori is readily appealing on first sight, the majority of the work is superficial and suffers from infantile ideas and immature nanako work.


Maeda, the Daimyo of Kaga province was well to do and was interested in many fields of artistic endeavour; he employed a variety of artists to make sword fittings, Textiles, Lacquer Wares, etc. The Goto artists Kenjo, Kakujo, Teijo, Enjo, Mizuki, Katsuki, and Kawamura were well known and much appreciated in their own day. The 9th Goto master, Teijo, was known to have been a man of compassion; he raised several orphans who in turn grew up to become talents of the Goto school.


Ichinomiya Nagatsune who learned from Yasui Takenaga, was especially good at depicting figures, landscapes, animals and plants in Kebori and Shishaiboti; his Katakiribori was of particular renown and equaled, if not rivalled, that of the great master Somin.


It is no exaggeration to state that the Machibori technique reached its apex by dint of the Nara and Yokoya artists. The long tradition of Iebori which was passed on to only one son, had gradually weakened; its work suffered from lack of freedom and fresh ideas. It was thus that Machibori came into its own, to be deemed suitable for presentation items to the men of power of the day. This occurred at about the Empo or Genroku periods, which coincided with the commoners gaining monetary power over that of the nobles.

The founder of the school, Yokoya Soyo, was a student of the 7th Goto master, Kenjo's third son Injo. Few works by him are extant today, and those that are, are certified by either Somin or his grandson Soyo, 2nd. The authority known as Ko-Soyo or Sofu Soyo was no other than Soyo 2nd, who himself was a younger brother of Yokoya Eisei; he was later adopted by the great Somin. Somin's mastery was so powerful that his school prospered and produced a number of masters of genius among the students and their descendants until their popularity was finally usurped by the Nara school.

Yokoya Soyo, Furukawa Genchin, Omori Terumasa and Yanagawa Naomasa were all representatives of the Yokoya school; it is to be admired that the Yokoya school managed to override the power of Iebori, despite the strong influence Iebori exercised for so long! Even Somin's early work resembled Iebori, and Sofu Soyo continued to work in the Iebori style all his life. After the Genroku period Machibori, together with Kebori, Katakiribori, Shishaibori along with inlay work and other new techniques introduced a fresh and modern mood. Machibori continued to predominate after the middle Edo period; this is no wonder, the people having become used to a life of peace and comparative ease, tended to express their new-found wealth in a burst of splendour and luxurious brilliancy.


In addition to the well known 'Nara Three' - Toshinaga, Yasuchika and Joi, Toshinaru also belonged to this school; he was close to Shozui Noriyuki. The school had many expert craftsman of whom Tanaka Toshinaga, or Riju, was a born Kinko. He was not only truly representative of the Nara school, but he was also a match for Yokoya Somin. His aesthetic consciousness appeals to me particularly - he seems to have been an artist contemporary to his time and intent to remain so.

Yasuchika was the kind of man endowed with the energy that would have made him a 'jet-setter' were he alive today - the globe would not be too large for him! He would arise in Tokyo and umpteen hours later go to bed in Camp Bretagne or Teheran in order to attend international conferences, solve complicated negotiations or hold georgeous association in honor of the reigning Monarch! His gifted talent well realized a great wealth of ideas based on human nature, landscape, historical and legendary subjects in the world of the past, present and future and encompassing as well the steep mountains of South China.

Joi, who was an excellent student of Toshinaga (the 4th Nara master's pupil's pupil) was one of the 'Nara Three'. He excelled at Shishaibori and well exemplified the Nara techniques. The particular quality of Shishaibori is in showing the ground high although it is chiselled down to level.

Toshiharu, also one of the three Nara masters, was a man of sincere and earnest intent over even a trifle. His marvellously sure technique of freely manipulating a chisel of 4 bu in width is most admirable.


The Otsuki school was not popular for long, but some of its early artists were craftsmen of great nobility and excellence. I would single out Otsuki Korin (the 1st) who respectfully succeeded in the Goto style of high engraving on the nanako plate.

Kano Natsuo was an artist who derived his designs from Maruyama Shijo school of painters. Their speciality was systematic depiction of objects; his work is often compared with that of Goto Somin or Ichinomiya Nagatsune; I particularly like his Nikubori, and his even more skillful Katakiribori. With the exception of the Nara school, the period from late Edo through Meiji, Natsuo and Somin are often compared; I feel, however, that the latter would at times tend to superficiality.

Cherishing masterpieces of Sword Fittings in the palm of my hand, I feel as though the rainbow of four hundred years I gaze at is fading in my eyes.


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