Goto Ichijo MenukiGoto Ichijo

periodEnd of Edo (1865)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Menuki
ratingMeijin
meiHogen Ichijo saku – 法眼一乗作
measurements2.8 x 1.5 cm
price -sold-

The maker Goto Ichijo is the last greatest metalworker that the distinguished Goto family produced at the end of their glorious history. He was active at the end of the Edo Period and lived long. NBTHK Token Bijutsu


At the end of the line for the Goto family came its greatest artist, Goto Ichijo.

He was born in Kyoto 1791 with the name Eijuro to Goto Jujo of the Shichiroemon line of the Goto family. He studied under his adopted father Goto Kenjo (Hachirobei) at the age of nine, and then at the age of 11 studied under Hanzaemon Kijo due to the failing health of Kenjo. Kenjo died in 1805 when Ichijo was 15, and Ichijo then inherited Hachirobei line and changed his name to Mitsutaka (光貨). In 1811 at 21 years old he changed to Mitsuyuki (光行) and began doing work for the Edo Shirobei Goto branch.

Around 1820 at the age of 29 he began signing as Mitsuyo (光代) His work at this point began its great rise to excellence and many Juyo exist today with this Mitsuyo signature.

At only the age of 34 in 1824, he was given the task to decorate the Masamune in the Imperial Collection of Emperor Kokaku. Because of the excellent work done for the Emperor he was given the rank of Hokkyo and changed his name to Ichijo (一乗). By 1851 his reputation rose to the point that the Shogunate asked him to move to Edo to make works directly for the Tokugawa. He made this move brought with him Hashimoto Isshi and Funada Ikkin. By 1855 demand and respect for his work was so high he had his son Mitsunobu come to Edo to help in the workshop.

Goto Ichijo
Goto Ichijo

Gotō Ichijō produced many finely detailed works during the height of his career. Usually the elegance of a work suffers from too much detail but Ichijō understood like no other kinkō master how to maintain elegance and taste even at highly detailed interpretations. NBTHK Juyo Zufu

By 1862 at the age of 73 he moved back to Kyoto, presumably to retire to a more simple life, but he never stopped working. At the age of 74 he was asked by Emperor Komei to make a tachi mounting and in return Emperor Komei increased his Buddhist rank to Hogen afterwards.

In his semi-retirement he experimented with iron, which was a material that the Goto family forbid itself from using. For these pieces he signed with the name Hakuo (伯応, meaning an elder brother or a leader), and sometimes he added Totsuo-sanjin (凸凹山人) which means Hermit of Unevenness, and I take to be an expression of great humility as he expressed his skills in this new material.

He also experimented with other materials not traditionally used by the Goto house, including silver, and shibuichi. For this he is an iconoclast, but his work was always exquisitely made and carefully laid out and his aesthetic sense is perhaps the greatest of all fittings makers to have lived. As such it is always a simple case to look at the work and immediately know it is by his hand as none others could do it.

Ichijo was the last and one of the greatest masters representing the Goto school. When he first took up the metal art, he followed the Goto's traditional style called iebori, and mainly produced the so-called mitokoromono consisting of three parts of sword fittings, namely menuki, kogai, and kozuka. His favorite designs were of dragon and shishi. Later, he dropped the iebori workmanship and turned to the style based on realistic depiction of nature. His motifs were quite diversified and included natural objects such as grasses, flowers, insects, birds, and landscapes. He depicted them in a highly elaborate and precise manner. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

Goto Ichijo Menuki Fronts

Many great students studied under him: Funada Ikkin, Hashimoto Isshi, Nakagawa Issho, Imai Nagatake, and Araki Tomei are leaders among this group. But many others came to train and learn from the old master and he graciously trained them all with good spirit. I have been told in Japan that Kano Natsuo, the other luminary artist of this time period, was a harsh taskmaster in his relentless pursuit of perfection and as a result many students wilted and dropped out under his tutelage. But Goto Ichijo was a kind gardener, watering the plants and caring for them and under his teachings these masters all bloomed and have many Juyo works of their own. Each of them shows the hallmarks of careful composition, and exquisite, I would also say tender technique that made his works so elegantly beautiful.

Ichijo went to Yamato-e's revivalist Kikuchi Yosai (1788-1878) to obtain the design for his carving. He also took drawing lessons from Matsumoto Kensai. His understanding and mastery of Japanese traditional poetry is also conspicuous in his work. He produced all the metal parts attached to the sword-mounting. The kinds of jigane he used include kin or gold, shakudo, shibuichi, straka, and tetsu or iron. He did the most thorough work throughout, from basics, nanako work, and to finish. He was also very careful to make sure his works were well taken care of, and signing on the container box was his means of showing his sentiment toward each piece of his work. The techniques he used were varied combinations of takabori (high relief), usu-nikubon (low-relief), iroe (use of various color metals), zogan (inlay), kata-kiribori (line carving with a cross section having an upright and slanting cuts), and kebori (hair-line carving). He was especially successful in the kin-sunagozogan (tiny granular gold inlay) and kirigane-zogan (thin foil inlay) by which he created decorative effects similar to lacquer work. When he reached his last years around the Ansei and Man'en eras, he took up iron which was unconventional material in the Goto tradition. When he used iron, he signed his alias TOTSUO-SANJIN. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

Goto Ichijo Menuki Box

This great, and last master of the Goto line, died in the 9th year of Meiji (1876) at the age of 86, beloved by his students and clients and art lovers. His students often signed Ichijo Monjin in their mei to show the pride in having received instruction from this teacher.

Goto Ichijo is ranked Meijin in the Kinko Meikan for the highest level of craftsmanship and artistry. To date he has achieved Juyo 86 times, Tokubetsu Juyo 7 times, Juyo Bijutsuhin 2 times, and Juyo Bunkazai 2 times. This is the highest Juyo count of any tosogu artist and only Natsuo with 8 pieces has achieved Tokuju more often.

Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Ichijo MenukiGoto Ichijo Menuki Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Ichijo Menuki

These are lovely menuki of quail by Goto Ichijo, made in silver.

Silver is an unusual material to find in tosogu, and he used this in execute the birds. They have gold highlights for beaks and feet. We don't often see silver tosogu, most likely because the other standard options for material hold their color and silver is subject to tarnish.

We can tell these menuki were made at the end for Ichijo, because of the choice of material being outside normal Goto bounds, and that he used his formal title of Hogen in the mei (法眼). Ichijo was 73 at this point in 1863 when he got this title, end died at 86, so we can date these menuki with fair precision in these 13 years centered around 1870.

These quail show all of the precision and beauty of Ichijo's work, and feature a split mei on the undersides of the birds where it is visible and very hard to fake (the other option for signing menuki is with plates added to the back, but these being separate from the artwork are subject to some forgery sometimes).

They are ranked Tokubetsu Hozon for their quality and importance, and come in a custom made box. They're a nice example to have for any tosogu collector. Epecially since they have the Hogen title in his signature, they serve the role of illustrating the work style of his final period.