Goto Eijo Menuki

Goto Eijo

periodMomoyama (ca. 1610)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Menuki
dimensions2.2 x 1.8 cm, 2.5 x 1.8 cm
price$13,500 $15,000 -sale- -consignment-

The mainline Shirobei branch of the Goto family stands by itself in the history of soft metal fittings. Its founder is Yujo, who was likely born in Mino in 1440 and assimilated the various traditions of the time. He worked for the Ashikaga shogun Yoshimasa, and developed a typical style which he handed down to his son Sojo and would form the basis for house carving – iebori – for the rulers of Japan.

The Ashikaga Shoguns granted Yujo (who died in 1512) and his heirs a certain amount of hereditary income from Sakamoto in Omi province. This continued through the sponsorship of Goto Joshin who worked for Ashikaga Shoguns Yoshiharu and Yoshiteru. The fifteenth Ashikaga Shogun Yoshiaka was the last of the line, and died when Oda Nobunaga began conquering Japan and took over Kyoto in 1568. At this point the Goto family began working for Nobunaga and his circle, which would eventually hand power to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then to Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Goto line continued working for the Tokugawa through the end of the Edo period.

The first three generations of the main line, Yujo, Sojo, and Joshin took their names after entering the priesthood and did not sign their work. We generally do not see signatures until the later generations of this school. Along with the fourth generation Kojo, the work of these initial generations is restricted to the small fittings, kogai, kozuka and menuki, sometimes in sets of mitokoromono (things for three places).

These fittings were strictly made in a style we call iebori, or house carving, and were made entirely in gold or shakudo or a combination of the two metals by rule.

Popular themes included dragons and shishi, which reflected themes of power and majesty and well suited the kinds of top level blades on which they would be placed. We tend to see these themes in gold on kozuka and kogai, placed on black shakudo nanako ground. We collectively refer to them as Ko-Goto, which is a term referred to for pre-Momoyama Goto work. This term I have seen used with a bit of flexibility, either to denote the first three generations, or the first five. The fifth generation Tokujo however is the first to make tsuba, and also he developed chemical plating processes that were used in place of the mechanical riveting processes of the older generations. As well his work is aligned with the Momoyama period, and so I think this is the logical place to separate the groups.


Goto Eijo

Goto Eijo is the 6th mainline master of the Goto school and worked from the very end of the 1500s to his death in 1617 at the age of 41. As a result his work is relatively rare within the scope of the main line of the Goto school.

His father is Goto Tokujo and his son was Sokujo, the 8th master. Due to Eijo's early death, the main line of the Goto passed through Kenjo who was Eijo's younger brother temporarily as the 7th master. His name at birth was Kameichi and later he took the civilian name Masafusa.

Eijō, born in the fifth year of Tenshō (1577), was the eldest son of Tokujō. Before taking over the hereditary name Shirōbei he was called Genshirō (源四郎) and, as civilian name, he used the names Masamitsu (正光), Masafusa (正房) and Mitsumune (光宗).

When the Toyotomi faction lost at Sekigahara the Gotō-Shirōbei line faced some difficulties because they were under their patronage. But by Gotō Chōjō’s (長乗) mediation the change to Ieyasu worked out. Chōjō, born in the fourth year of Eiroku (1561) and died on the 26th day of the third month of Genna two (1616), was the second son of Kōjō and thus the uncle of Eijō. Sesko - Kinko Kodogu


After the fall of the Toyotomi, Eijo and his father Tokujo along with the rest of the Goto family were temporarily classified as Ronin (masterless samurai). Shortly thereafter Tokujo and his son Eijo were ordered by the Shogun to take up work for the Tokugawa. Eijo died of an unspecified illness during a visit to Edo the year after.

Goto Eijo Menuki Eijo Mei

Like most of the early Goto masters we rarely encounter his signature due to the nature of his customers being the rulers of Japan. The earliest generations don't ever sign anything and we see signatures starting to appear possibly with the 4th and 5th masters Kojo and Tokujo though the examples are extremely rare. With Eijo he seems to have signed more often then the previous two masters, but with his early death there may be no more than four examples left. Generally work of Eijo is known by attribution from the later Goto smiths. Those attributions give us a basis for modern determinations.

Eijo is thought to have made some tsuba, something that is thought to have started with his father Tokujo. Goto Mitsutaka (13th master) attributed some tsuba to him, but without the Goto origami attributed tsuba may be considered tentative.

In style his work is most close to Joshin, the 3rd master, who often made boldly interpreted subjects, but that the work is more detailed.

To date there are 38 items by Eijo which have passed Juyo. There are two more sets which are partially Yujo or partially Joshin which are ranked at Tokubetsu Juyo. Eijo carries a very high ranking of Meiko in the Kinko Meikan.

Goto Mitsutaka Origami
Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Eijo MenukiGoto Eijo Menuki Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Eijo Menuki

These wonderful works are attributed to Goto Eijo by Goto Mitsutaka, the 13th master of the Goto mainline. Mitsutaka valued them at 2.5 mai (gold coins of the time) and the origami is dated 7th day of the 7th month of Enkyo 3 (1746).

These are a pair of tigers. In Japanese art, the female tiger is often illustrated as a leopard as they are not native to Japan and early exposure to these animals through foreign art gave them this misinterpretation. These works instantly make you think of Joshin and so then Eijo, and they are filled with classical charm. These had to have been made for a high level customer since his patrons were Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Tiger themes are found but are not as common as dragon or shishi, and there are no others at the moment among Eijo's Juyo repertoire.

The Goto origami are accompanied by a letter in grass script which has not been translated yet (due to the difficulty in reading old script). The envelopes for these have reference to someone with a court rank, and another has a reference that they were inspected again in 1875. There are then some interesting potentials to be found in cracking the rest of the writing.

The classical charm and construction of these menuki, along with Goto Mitsutaka's origami, point to these menuki being a good candidate for Juyo status. They will easily be a worthy addition to any collection of tosogu.

These come in a long box which allows the origami and envelopes to be stored with the menuki.